Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where Can You Find Out About Updates You Ask?

Due to the number of story blogs that I have I decided to create an update blog.  Yeah, I know it sounds redundant but in reality I hope to make things less confusing and time consuming for readers.  Instead of having to subscribe to umpty dozen different blogs you can subscribe to Mother Hen's Story Blogg at http://motherhensstorytime.blogspot.com/ and get all of the updates in one location.

There is also a full listing of all of the story blogs on the right hand side of the page and several different subscription choices ... email, readers, google, etc.  Near future during the editing and clean up process I also hope to put a contact link so that if readers have any questions I'll get a direct email.  For now a comment on the blog should get to me.  I'm also going to finally get on that blog that will house all of the recipes that appear in the stories in one location.  I hope to tag those so that you can search them by ingredients, cooking methods, etc.

As always thank you for all of your encouragement.  It is greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Updates and Announcements

In the coming weeks there is will lots of updates to my story pages.  I've looked back at some of the blogs and they need major editing including updating the "story list" and other links.  To get the whole ball of wax started I'm posting Rain, Rain, Rain.  The story is complete but was badly in need of proof reading so it is going to take me a day or three to get all thirty-something chapters posted.  But for those that would like to read it I have it started at http://rainrainrainelizabella.blogspot.com/

In addition to the current story list on blogspot I'll be posting some other stories that haven't made it to the blog-o-shere yet.  Some have been posted in line, simply at other locations, and some have never seen the light of day outside my computer.  I'll also be finishing some that are "in progress" in various locations.

Sorry I've been away so long but I'm baaaack and plan on completing some much needed story time housekeeping.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Fel By the Wayside" is complete

The story Fel By The Wayside is now complete and can be found at http://felbythewayside.blogspot.com/

I am currently working on completing the stories one by one. "And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth" is an old one that I never finished and it is the one that I am currently working on. I will get it posted to blogspot as soon as I can and you will be able to find the link in my profile as soon as I do.

Thanks for everyone's patience. I had too many open threads in my hand at one time and working on all of them wasn't working so I've decided to work on them one at a time until it is finished and then move on to the next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Update ...

The following stories are now complete:
A Will To Survive
Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
Forsaken Harvest (completed as of 11/14/11)
Over the Mountain and Through the Fire
This Is Me Surviving

Stories Currently in Progress:
All Roads Lead Somewhere
Carry On
Gurl
Mom's Journal of the Zombie Years
To All Things There Is A Season
Il Agita Di Amore
And the Geek Will Inherit the Earth

I plan on a very short break and then will begin to try and complete another story. I hope to have at least two more completed before the end of the year.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 97

Chapter 97

“Blast! These new fangled pens are completely useless!”

“Not again,” a female voice chuckled.

“Don’t you not again me young lady. Why on earth they have to make these things with razor point tips and so small a person can barely …”

“Mom, I’m married with kids of my own. Don’t you think you should give up calling me ‘young lady’? And besides, I already hear it from Anne every chance she gets. Ford had them shipped in special to prevent any of us having to put up with what they are running into on the coast with those techno pirates. You know why you have to do the financial papers with those special pens; it’s for fraud prevention. If you and Uncle Stro wouldn’t insist on holding them like they were going to bite …”

A voice, older but still strong, called from the kitchen, “Hah! Don’t draw me into this ‘Chelle. I hate those things even worse than your mother does. I don’t care if there is nano techno whosiwhatsits in that ink, anyone that even tries to take the farm by falsifying a deed will wind up down a deep hole just like all of the other idiots that have tried it over the years.”

“Uncle Stro! You can’t say things like that! What if someone heard?!”

“Well if they had any sense it would make them think twice.”

“Ack!”

“All right, all right, that’s enough. If the two of you brangling make my cake fall …”

“Me?! I’m not the one who started this!” But rather than be angry ‘Chelle at her mother and uncle she laughed and just reveled in being home for a visit. She missed this. Missed it terribly. All of the kids being under foot until they were sorted out and sent back to who they belonged to at the end of the day. The fresh air, the freedom, the good food … all of the noise and shenanigans everyone seemed to constantly be up to. But when Ford had been offered the job in Roanoke it was something they just couldn’t turn down, not when credits were getting so hard to come by, not even their metal investments seemed to keep up and they promised the kids they’d help them get into a decent school though Tyler seemed changing his mind and thinking about accepting his great uncle’s offer of an apprenticeship. Damascus was still Damascus, little more than a dot on the map and there just weren’t enough jobs to go around for those that needed them.

After her mother left the room ‘Chelle asked her uncle, “How is she doing?”

“She hasn’t said anything to you?”

“You honestly think she would? You know how Mom can be.”

Strother Hefling shook his head, “Of course I do. And you know how hard she’s taking it. It missed so many, and then to have this happen out of the blue …”

The old woman wasn’t near as deaf as they seemed to think she was, she just wasn’t in the mood to talk about it. Besides, she’d promised the grandkids that she would finally get around to writing the story out and they were bound and determined to hold her to it this time. She didn’t know whether to consider it a foolish waste of time or admit that the memories were just hard to dredge up, even after all these years.

She checked the cake and found it ready to come out and once she had put it in the pie keep to cool she quietly went down to the basement and then into the tunnels. The grandkids all goggled every time she told them of how she had helped her father to dig the early tunnels and how most of the concrete that smoothed those walls was left over from that time. They’d installed lights some years back after they had been able to increase the farm’s energy output with a bank of those super efficient solar generators that had been invented during the war. She set the switch to motion detection and slowly made her way from the basement to the barn so that she could avoid the dampness left over from yesterday’s rain. It had taken a while but her body had finally started to call in payment for her years of abuse and lately it seemed it had been adding on late fees as well.

As she walked, the pool of light following her every step, she thought it felt like she was going back in time. The memories weren’t all bad of course but the ones that she was about to get reacquainted with hurt and she’d rather take them out for a look see when no one was around to watch her do it.

Looking down she noted that’s where Lady had lain so hurt and frail. Jimmy Ray had lain there, at the base of the ramp … he’d been gone what seemed like a long time and yesterday at the same time. He never had remarried after Gloria had died from weaponized tuberculosis during the war. All he had cared about ever afterwards were his kids and his dogs; and some days it had been hard to tell them apart as wild as they all were. Going to Jimmy Ray’s place was like trying to wrangle a sack full of puppies, no matter which way you turned it was all paws and tails, snouts and teeth, and all of them in need of a bath.

A black and white cat met her at the top of the ramp, a descendent of ol’ Boots, the terror of every dog in the tri-county area. While not quite as ferocious as his ancestor, this one was a darn good mouser which was why she didn’t shoo him out of the barn and away from the area she kept the incubators in. She had more orders than she could fill now that they’d finally used some sense and relaxed the ordinances in the cities and allowed small livestock again and mice in the chick feed was the last thing she needed. The little business was bringing in some much needed credits, something rare after the sickness had made a hash out of things. Her family hadn’t done as well as some had after the war, being uninterested in building a salvaging business. To really make those pay you had to either live in the urban jungle or be willing to travel a lot and neither one was appealing as it would take them too far from the farm.

She finally got the door laid back down without dropping the flaming thing and Rocky sat down on a milking stool to rest and think. She still kept several cows. With better refrigeration she didn’t have to ration it the way she had in those early years. And unless the grandkids were over she even managed to have enough to make cheese with. Annie would bring her students out to the orchard during harvest time for a class picnic and the kids were always fascinated at how everything was done “the old fashioned way.” Every year it seemed she’d get at least one smart aleck that would want to know why they were so poor they couldn’t buy stuff at the store “like normal people did.” That’s all the opening Rocky needed and she’d take the kids back to what most everyone called the Twelvers War … a time when terror was more abundant than clean drinking water.

Those years had been lean and hard beyond what most people had the ability to describe; beyond what most of the folks of her generation even wanted to describe much less remember. Even as somewhat insulated as they had been here in the mountains they still felt the terrible toll that the war had taken on the whole country, on the world. The radio was a window open on what was going on that was sometimes difficult to look through. Things were better now … at least in some ways … but the shadows were still there, especially in the bigger cities where they seemed to lay in wait to suck the life force out of the people that had too soon forgotten the lessons of the past; or those that were trying to escape the past only to wind up repeating it.

The cat darted out a gap in the door drawing her attention. The big doors on the barn weren’t new but they weren’t the originals either. They’d been forced to make do and repair the ones that had been battered down that dark day for almost a full year before there was enough wherewithal to fashion new ones. Truth be told the barn was made up of parts from so many different time periods that it was a wonder it still stood at all. The roof was the newest, made out of panels that Stro had leftover from a big construction job on the newest incarnation of the Damascus consolidated school system. They’d finally enrolled enough kids to need to separate the younger ones from the older and Stro’s company had been tapped to do the work.

But none of the primary beams were less than a hundred years old and some of them were so old and dark that they could have passed for something from a petrified forest. She walked over to one beam in particular. There, right there. She ignored it when she could but sometimes it still drew her unwilling eye. You could barely see it these days but that dark streak was where the nearly red hot barrel of the Bushmaster had charcoaled a gouge in the wood.

Rocky bent down and remembered. That night had ended leaving her at a point so far from where she had started that she never did quite make her way all the way back. Oh, she’d acted like she had but in reality something had shattered and she’d never managed to find all the pieces and glue them back together. She had been beyond fear or terror. Beyond anger. Even beyond revenge although that had come back to her eventually.

Rocky closed her eyes and it was all too easy to picture how it had been, to step back in time.

----------------------------------

The air that night had been crisp with a nasty little bite to it. I heard the cruel jibes of the captors, smelled the odor of pain and terror, and the sharp metallic scent of blood.

Johnson stripped and strapped down and for all he’d already endured in torture his eyes rolled in their swollen sockets and I sensed he was feeling the panic only a young man could at what they had promised to do to him. Thor tied to the hitching rail; beaten, tortured, and shorn. No sound came from him. He made absolutely no movement. I lost what hope I had that he still drew breath. They’d cut him viciously and even in the dark I could see the ground beneath him was wet with coagulating blood.

Finally I saw Stro, thrown to the side like a broken toy. His arm bent in a place arms weren’t meant to bend. His back was shredded just like Thor’s. But he hadn’t gone quietly any more than Thor had. His big hands were torn and bloody from what must have truly been a battle. Two of the enemy lay near him their faces unrecognizable masks of gore, a testament to how hard our side had fought. There was no sign of Mr. Dink and I could only pray that my father’s old friend had somehow escaped with Lawson and gone for help.

The three men – my husband and the brothers of my heart – were bent and subjugated; their captors making comments unfit to wipe dog poop off your boots with. The man I had dubbed The Torturer picked up the emasculator from the brazier of red hot coals and started to make his move which was what I took as the signal to make a move of my own.

His head didn’t exactly disintegrate as two bullets from the bushmaster impacted his face but it wasn’t exactly in the same shape it had been the moment before either. His arms flew up and back and he released the tool he’d intended for Johnson. The force subsequently propelled the tool directly into Cliff’s eye. But Cliff wasn’t dead. He shrieked and stumbled around and knocked the brazier over and into one of the other captors that hadn’t quite figure out what was going on. I didn’t give him, or the other men, the chance.

I could have been more controlled but I wasn’t; my shots became a little wild. About all I can claim is that I managed to keep them high enough that none of them hit the bodies of my people. Cliff had finally managed to get the emasculator out of his eye socket but he was still stumbling around screaming when I stepped out of the barn. With his one remaining eye he spotted me and then shrieked like he’d seen a nightmare … and maybe he had.

My steel was starting to leak cold fire from where I kept it tucked and hidden, so much of it in fact it must have shown on my face. Cliff back pedaled and then turned and ran into the woods. The woods I knew as well as I knew my own hands.

“Rocky! Rocky girl!”

I looked and what I saw made me smile … but it was a terrible smile, the smile of a mountain banshee that had sighted the one she was to wail her unspeakable lament to. Mr. Dink though wasn’t as afraid as he should have been. He took the bushmaster gently from me and then placed in my hand Thor’s FN SCAR-IAR battle rifle. I stroked it the way I would have my lover if he’d still been with me. I turned and headed into the forest leaving Mr. Dink to tend to the survivors and greet the cavalry.

I could hear Cliff quietly blundering through the forest trying to escape the predator I had become, maybe had always been. He had once been a good woodsmen; not great, but certainly better than average. Dad had regularly used him as an example to follow and he’d shown a lot of promise; but his skills must have atrophied when he quit our crew. Or maybe my own skills had simply improved beyond what his had ever been. I had no trouble following him.

I should have needed a light in the forest but didn’t because God had provided one for me. The moon shown down turning everything silver and gray. The cold, dry night air aided me as every sound seemed to carry for miles. Every few feet I saw an inky blackness painted on a leaf, a tree trunk, in some lichen. Cliff was bleeding … but then again so was I. I felt the dampness that told me I’d left my own care too long. If Cliff was being drained of his life, so was I. As much as my heart hurt this was no suicide mission for me. I had a daughter that needed me and I intended to be there to raise her. I told myself it was time to end things and tend to the living as much as the dead.

I picked up my pace and tried to ignore the various discomforts in the various places that I was feeling them. Then it came to me. I knew where he was going. A place in some of the oldest of the old growth forest that had been used as a camp site for so many decades there were places in the ground where grass would never grow and smooth indentions in a few of the boulders where buttocks had sat so many times – even before this country was a country – that they were more like chairs than rocks.

Now in addition to sound the wind brought me the smell of campfires, too smoky for good sense or stealth. I slowed down and then turned off the path to a hidden place that Dad and I had used as a hunting stand. It gave me the perfect view of the camp in the hollow below.

I watched Cliff stumble up to a guard and nearly get shot for his troubles. His hysterical tone was so shrill it almost hurt the fillings in my teeth to hear it, even from that distance. I watched as several men came up to him and then one who bore himself with a real competence, a leader among men that they all obviously listened to. The men all parted before the man who was walked like a leader as he approached Cliff and I could see the calming affect he had on them all. I had found my first target.

I took a breath. Aimed. The leader turned and I saw his face; a man of power, of control, one who reminded me for a fleeting moment of Thor when the battle was on. And then I pulled the trigger and the face was obliterated and the sound in the wake of my shot told me Cliff was no longer the only hysterical one.

“Control Hon. That’s what you need the most. You have to turn loose of any idea you have of judging your target. It’s nothing but an unnecessary distraction. Once a person becomes your target the time of judgment is over with and what you are dealing them is fate.” Thor had tried to explain to me every time I asked how he could do what he did for pay and live with himself but it was this last explanation that had stuck with me the most. The time for judging these men was over with. I had already judged them and found them guilty. They had chosen their fate and I was here to deliver it.

My shots were Spartan; there was no need to waste ammo, no need to simply burn the clip off with one pull of the trigger. I didn’t shoot unless I had a good target. The thing was I had a lot of good targets; there were too many men in too small an area. It was quite literally like picking cherries out of a bowl. The men and women would run this way and that but I kept them pinned in. I also gave off enough random shots that it kept them running around in the middle as well. The clearing was only so big and up against a face of pure granite that there was just no place for them to escape to. Maybe that leader hadn’t been as smart as he appeared at first glance.

I sunk to a lower position and then lay prone. They’d finally gotten themselves together enough to start shooting back; however, the idiots shot their own more than they ever came close to shooting me. Through it all I kept my eye on Cliff as he ran to and fro and finally collapsed in a heap.

When the shooting stopped bodies were strewn everywhere below me. Only a very few were left alive to escape. I let them go knowing they wouldn’t escape for long. Someone had the dogs out; they bayed at the moon like hell hounds and I watched the fear kindle in the eyes of those that finally dug up enough courage to run.

Cliff stayed where he was, a pathetic mess. I had almost given up, thinking that maybe he had died from shock, when he lifted his ruined face and shouted as he started to crawl into the shadows, “I know it’s you! I’ll get you for this! I’ll give you to them that want you and then sell that brat of yours to the scientists! It’ll live in a cage for the rest of its unnatural life!! It …”

The battle rifle in my hand barked only once. Just a squeeze, that’s all it took. And Cliff was no more.

I was forced to use the trunk of a hickory nut tree to help me stand. With my part of the battle over with I was dizzy but whether from blood loss or the last of the adrenaline seeping away I couldn’t tell. I don’t really remember that fumbling march back to the farm, all I am sure of is that it took a lot longer to get back than it had to hunt Cliff down. After the gun cooled down I was able to sling it over my shoulders but that meant I was without a crutch.

I stumbled from tree to tree, from boulder to boulder. A brief wade through a cold stream woke me up enough that I realized I needed to adjust my course and then finally I was within sight of the homestead. There was a cacophony of sound rolling towards me but I was hearing it through ears suffering in the aftermath of heavy rifle fire.

I was spent but unreasonably I felt like roaring with laughter at the irony at realizing my milk had started to come in. My chest was straining at the buttons of the gown I had never changed out of. When I realized the yard was full of strange people there was no way I was going to go out amongst them. I wasn’t fit to be seen and I really had not interest in making even more of a spectacle of myself than I already had. And if any of them were my friends the stains on the gown and the rest of me would give them cardiac arrest.

Through the rows of corn, behind the wagon, and then as I tried to cut through the horses that seemed to be milling everywhere they shouldn’t be I heard the baying of a hound. It wasn’t loud. It was pretty pathetic actually. But the roar that followed the bay wasn’t. I told myself I couldn’t be hearing what I thought I was hearing.

--------------------------

“Ro-chelle … you having a staring contest with that post or what?” I was yanked back to the present with such ferocity I nearly fell over.

“Thor! What are you doing out of your bed?! You know what the doctor said.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said and I could hear the wheeze beneath his words. “No one knew where you were at. Wound up having to get Brunhilda to find you.”

I put my hands on my hips, more ample than they used to be despite a still very active life, and told him, “That dog’s name is Daisy, not Brunhilda.”

“She doesn’t answer to Daisy,” he said with a wicked twinkle still bright despite the passing of the years.

Getting irritated at his refusal to go back in the house despite me trying to turn him that direction, “That’s because you’ve confused her. Whoever heard of a hound being called Brunhilda? Honestly you and your strange starts.” To the dog I said, “Yes, you found me you great big goof. Now if you could find the rabbits that keep getting into my cabbage you’d have something to be proud of.”

Thor wrapped his arms around me and I let him for all that the grandkids would probably start making their silly gagging noises and run off and tell their parents that Ra Ra and Grandpa were doing it again. But as he did so I noticed his arms were thinner, too thin no matter if he’d finally put some weight back on since they’d let me bring him home from the hospital in Abingdon. He saw me noticing and said, “I’m fine. Give me a little bit more time and your good cooking …”

I was in no mood for play. “I nearly lost you. Again.”

“Maybe. But since it didn’t turn out that way though, maybe not. Looks like God isn’t quite through with me yet.” We leaned into each other, thanking God yet again neither one of us had been forced to learn what it was going to be like to live without the other. We knew that time was coming, given our age perhaps sooner rather than later, but that time hadn’t come yet and I was praising and thanking Him for it. “Now you going to tell me what’s got you looking like you do?” Thor asked with a hint of concern in his voice.

I thought about lying but I still couldn’t pull it off with a straight face even after nearly four decades of marriage. “I got tired of the kids pestering the daylights out of me to write down the family history. I’d gotten so far … I just seemed to get stuck and couldn’t get passed …”

I shrugged and that was all. I didn’t even have to finish explaining. That night was one neither of us has ever been able to talk about often or with equanimity. It took both of us months to heal up from our ordeal. Thor still limps if his foot gets too cold for too long. While my constitution was sorely tested I suffered no permanent damage though it took much longer than it should have for me to fully recover from the birth of our first child. I got a cold that came and went that whole winter but was blessed that it never went into my lungs.

We named our baby Anna Joy though for the most part she went by Annie or Anne. She was tall, actually ending up an inch taller than me, but where as I grew up thick and muscular she was willowy taking after Thor’s side of the family. There was a little over two years between Anna Joy and her brother Erik. Erik grew to be a carbon copy of his father in nearly every way including his wanderlust as a young man. He did settle down, he just didn’t do it early like the rest of his siblings. After Erik came Evans then Ethan and then Everley all in quick succession. Those four boys were holy terrors and I loved every minute of it. Thor and Annie would sit and watch us and just shake their heads while I rough housed with the four boys. Stro and I took great delight in teaching them to play football.

After Everley we lost a couple and we thought there wouldn’t be any more but once God surprised us with Dovie it seemed to pave the way for Lydie, Corder, Brooks, and Malissa. We were for sure that Malissa was the last. I’d had so much trouble with that pregnancy towards the end that it didn’t surprise us when three years passed with not so much as a nibble.

Then I got a chest cold that turned into pneumonia. The war was over with but things were still very hard to come by, especially antibiotics and professional medical care. I was over six months along before we realized that one of the reasons it was taking me so long to get my health back was because I was going to have a baby. I fought and cried and really cut up a fuss but in the end I didn’t have any choice but to be admitted to the hospital.

It caused a stir and a bunch of the old stuff was brought up when my identity was leaked by a self serving orderly looking to make a buck. The results of the tests I went through also caused me palpitations. Someone … several someones … from the government showed up and tried to talk Thor and I into being some kind of spokespeople for the anti-environmental movement that was a popular fad at the time but there was no way I was having anything to do with it.

The stress of it all put me into labor early which strangely enough turned out to be a blessing, one that may have saved my life; one or both of the twins, and possibly me, would have died in the trying. I was pretty blasted for over a week, nearing meltdown stage. I’d had to endure the Roman cut and all had agreed that it was simply safer for me to have my tubes tied at the same time. I was at peace with the decision, it was everything else that was turning my brain inside out. I had thought all of the GWB stuff was behind me, behind the family. I had been wrong.

When they were born the little girl weighed almost thirteen pounds even though she was over a month premature. The little boy was half a pound smaller but half an inch longer. I suppose it doesn’t speak well of me but I just couldn’t get my head around things. The doctors wanted Thor to leave the twins and I in the hospital indefinitely but I begged him to get us out of there. Thor called on some old friends and we were whisked home and I didn’t leave the property for months, afraid that history was going to repeat itself.

Slowly the night terrors and dreams stopped and I could appreciate what Thor had chosen to name the babies when I wasn’t in any shape to do much more than gibber. The girl he named Rochelle though we call her ‘Chelle, and the boy he named Jonathon.

We weren’t the only ones left with lasting effects from that night. Stro was left with some heavy scaring including some in his left ear canal that caused some loss of hearing. When his business became successful he had something done about it letting us know that it had always bothered him more than he had ever let on. He and Tina remained married though several rough patches; it seemed to take them a few years before they were truly and completely easy in each other’s company. They had a houseful of big noisy boys, best friends of our older boys, and Tina finally laughed one day and told me that it used to be that she didn’t know how to cope with all of the noise and ruckus but that now she didn’t know what to do without it.

Lawson, who brought the cavalry … literally since it had been a military convoy he’d run into first … turned serious and enlisted. He lost half a foot in the war and was sent home where he went to work for Stro, eventually meeting a girl that he settled down with. We see them at church nearly every week.

Jimmy Ray seemed to be the least traumatized of the group. He just got up, went home to Gloria, and carried on with his life as if nothing had ever happened. They had four stair steps and then out of the blue, the war was brought home to all of us. Gloria was still acting as an intermediary between the military and our local militia. Somehow she was exposed to a biological weapon. Our entire area received mass inoculations and tight quarantining, stopping the TB in its tracks but for Gloria it was too late. Jimmy Ray nursed her to the horrible end. And when she passed she seemed to take a good chunk of the old Jimmy Ray with her. He saw his children raised, grew his business, and then one day his youngest heard all of the dogs howling. She ran out and found Jimmy Ray; he’d had some kind of stroke or aneurism, we never did find out which. Two of his kids continued the dog breeding and training business their father had built and those animals are some of the most prized on the market for search and rescue workers.

If Jimmy Ray was the least affected, Johnson was the most. He suffered from nightmares and night sweats for months afterwards. He tried to build a normal life but he could never quite pull it off. The girl he married gave him two children, a boy and a girl, but no matter how he tried he couldn’t ever quite find peace. Two years after Lawson enlisted Johnson left to do the same. He never came home. Sandford, at his brother’s memorial said, “Sometimes you fight the good fight and die quickly anyway. There’s no shame in it and such people are often called heroes. But I think it’s just as true to call those men heroes that die slowly, bits at a time, from battles long forgotten by everyone else. They get up every day and try. They never completely surrender even though it would be so much easier to do so. They fight the same war every day, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. Which one of us can say that we could be so strong even knowing that eventually the scars that no one can see may kill us one day anyway?”

Sand and Tina only had their one child. For whatever reason Tina never could get pregnant again but they raised Johnson’s two as if they were their own when their mother, too young to deal with a husband that was so damaged that he’d all but abandoned her, had left to start a new job in Richmond. She had promised to come back but never had and eventually stopped leaving forwarding addresses.

Mr. Hefling is still around. Watching Johnson fight his demons revealed something to him. I’m not sure what it was but he met a young woman and then married her. She had two children by her first husband who had died in the early days of the Green terrorist attacks then she and Mr. Hefling had a child together. I thought Stro and Thor were going to give themselves hernias at the look on Mr. Hefling’s face as he tried to explain that he was going to be a father again after he’d already become a grandfather.

Granny C passed away in her sleep right before Everley was born. It was a blessing. Her arthritis had crippled her up so badly that even breathing had become a misery by the end. I’ve never spoken of it but I saw a cup of tea by her bedside that Miz Louise had given her. The leaves I had seen steeping had been from an herb known for its strong narcotic affect. Or maybe it hadn’t been Miz Louise but Granny herself; her mind had still been sharp for all it was locked up in a body wracked with pain. She would have known what she was doing. I’ll let God sort that one out.

Miz Louise and Mr. Dink outlived Granny by nearly five years though we finally convinced them to move into the cabin near the house. They died within a week of each other and it was like the end of an age for those of us that had grown up knowing them.

All through the years Thor and I have had our ups and downs, but praise God mostly ups. His recent illness scared me badly. We still don’t know where he picked it up at but I suspect it was on the trip to Kentucky. I was still fat with Erik when out of the blue a young man rides up and shouts a halloooo at our gate. I don’t know which of us was more stunned, him seeing me pregnant or me realizing I was looking at David Chuckri.

“Dad! Dad!!”

Thor had just come from the barn and started running towards me when he saw I was in distress, “Is it the baby?”

“No … I mean I don’t think … Thor, I’m … I’m losing my mind. I could swear I just saw …”

At that time several riders thundered down the road, Sand leading the way in front of familiar faces I hadn’t thought to ever see again. That night was amazing. The whole crew was reunited except for Evans. The men were on a trading expedition and had taken the chance following up a lead they’d heard through the military grapevine, had gotten turned around and then run into Sand and the rest as they say is history.

We still see them occasionally though we write much more often; David even came to live with us for a season before returning home a little older and wiser than he had arrived. Ludvig is now the patriarch of the family. The Chuckri’s are one of the larger land holders where they are but it hasn’t been easy. During the Twelver War many people suspected them of being spies just because of their complexion. When the old crew started helping the military things eased up but the occasional flare up still happens. Just like us they’ve seen sadness and tragedy but Uncle Bedros taught them well and they haven’t let any of it break them.

So many things have happened over the years of our lives that I’ll probably be the rest of mine trying to record it. I keep searching for some great bit of wisdom that I can impart to the kids so that they won’t make the mistakes we have but really, none of it is original. All the good wisdom comes from the Good Book. But if I did have to come up with something I would say to live life regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in. Search for the light in the dark. And sometimes there are fights worth fighting.

And now I am putting down this pen for a while. Thor is going to be asking for his dinner before I know it and I still have that cake to frost. Think I’ll split it and add a layer of filling of apple butter to it; the boys have always been partial to my apple butter. Maybe after dinner I’ll see if any of the boys want to toss the football around before the bugs come out. After all I may be getting older but I’ve still got a few plays left in me. And after we get all the young uns to sleep tonight I think I’ll take some time and remind Thor of that too.


THE END

Chapter 96

Chapter 96

I was trying to remember why the name Cliff should bother me when I heard breaking glass and a loud crash that happened near simultaneously followed immediately by a baby’s wail. Now that woke me up and then some. In that same second I felt Thor picking me up and running with me down the stairs to the basement.

“Wait!”

“Can’t Hon.” Turning to Lawson and Johnson – better known as the ones who had tried to destroy the stairwell with their big booted feet – Thor said, “Grab the ladies. Ms. Hefling you’ve got the baby. We’ve got a raiding party and they shot out the window and I expect them to continue to behave in similar fashion.” Paying attention to me again as I struggled weakly in the quilt that was hampering my movement he added, “Now I want you to listen to me and I don’t want any discussion. Take care of the baby and yourself. Ms. Louis and Ms. Hefling are here too and I expect you to mind them. No matter what, I love you. Remember that.”

I nearly slapped him but he ran off before I could untangle myself enough to get him. He left me hanging on words that sounded like he wasn’t sure he’d be coming back. As I finally managed to sit up I nearly shrieked. My body reminded me in a sharp and painful way that I was some tore up in a place that God only built women with.

“Rocky Charbonneau! Girl get some sense in that head of yours. Louise had to sew you up and you’re foolishness is going to tear you open again!”

Miz Louise added in a calmer and less irritable voice, though one still distressed, “Rocky, you had a second degree tear. You are inviting more damage and worse – infection - if you don’t calm down.”

Gasping I told them both, “I am calm but I need to be able to …”

Granny C said, “You don’t got to be able to do nothing but be still girl. Right now. Or did you fergit you done had a baby?!”

Miz Louise put said baby in my arms and I was stuck between having the driving need to go to Thor and the driving need to nurse the squirming scrap of humanity that I had birthed only a few hours earlier. As in most households, the baby won.

Nursing was both pain and pleasure; it calmed me as no words could have but at the same time it proved to me that I was in no physical shape to fight. I also seemed to have developed the disturbing new habit of crying at everything and nothing. I could vaguely hear the “pops” of weapons fire as well as the occasional crash. I alternated between an almost hysterical need to know what was going on and a fierce drive to protect the baby at all costs … including what it was costing my pride and spirit to stay hidden like a helpless child. I was physically ill with the conflicts raging inside of my body and soul. Miz Louise made soothing sounds and told me it was just normal baby blues as our current stress level warred with my hormones.

Normal was something I had completely lost touch with even if I had ever had it and “baby blues” left me clueless. All I knew is I hurt in places – both physical and mental – that I was not used to hurting in and that figuring out what to do about it was just about beyond my ability at that point.

The door to the basement opened and closed quickly letting Mr. Dink into the room. Miz Louise immediately ran to him and I was still dealing with the strange and world upending picture of the two of them cuddling when Granny C yelped, “Stop yer honeymooning. Adolphus, what is happening out there?!”

Mr. Dink and Granny C had a bit of a spicy friendship; she was the only female I’d ever heard him really lip off to but Dad had told me they were some kind of cousins and it wasn’t really meanness between them but over familiarity … whatever that meant. “Oh, loosen yer girdle. It ain’t pretty but tisn’t near as bad as it twere.”

“And?” asked Granny C in impatience. “My boys are up there and …”

“Well, if you’d draw a breath between complaints and questions and you might get an answer sooner rather than later.” Granny C clamped her lips together in a comically exaggerated way but she still shot daggers with her eyes.

Miz Louise rolled her eyes and flapped her apron. “Behave. Both of you. You’ll upset Rocky and the baby.”

They both looked slightly embarrassed the way older folks can look when you’ve caught them acting like kids. “Well …” Mr. Dink started. “There’s a break in the fighting at the moment. Them raiders are trying to regroup and Thor’s stepped out to make sure they don’t. The boys are all fine, even that crazy one Jimmy Ray. He has the dog and most of the animals down in the tunnels and didn’t that surprise ‘em.”

That made me yelp, “Thor showed them the tunnels?!”

“Easy there. Tweren’t much choice, the bullets were flying. As it is ya lost two hens. I cleaned ‘em and have ‘em in a stew pot. Thought p’raps you wimmen could get a fire going down here and maybe stew us up some food. No sense in letting the meat go to waste and them boys are spending a lot of energy running around.”

“Is anyone hurt?” I asked before the other two “wimmen” could.

“Oh, we’ve all got our cuts and scrapes but nothing serious so far. And the enemy is some worse off. What they don’t know is that Sand has got a group coming and they’re going to catch the raiders betwixt and between. Hear tell on that radio box that a buncha the locals have done turned the air blue over the Dunkirk boy bringing this trouble in. His step daddy is heart broke but has told ever’one they must do what needs doing and he’s comforting the boy’s mother til then. I ‘magine she lost that boy a long time ago but is just now finding it out for sure.”

I was shaken and shaking. Mr. Dink tried to go back up the stairs but I stopped him with one last question. “What’s the damage so far?”

He looked uncomfortable which didn’t help me any but then he sighed and said, “It ain’t as bad as it could be Rocky girl … but some of yore garden was tore up out of meanness. They’ve knocked down a bunch o’ the corn but I think it is still salvageable if we don’t get rain. They tried to burn down the barn and silo but that Jimmy Ray was able to put it out before it did too much damage … but you got an open corner and one of the mules was injured, but not so bad it needs to be put down.”

“The house?” I asked remembering the crashes I’d heard.

“We’ll get ya some glass and you can hang pictures over the holes if we can’t find no plaster. Now stop yer worrying, like I said it could be worse. You just settle down, you don’t look so good. Ya ain’t got no roses in yer cheeks.” And with that he did leave.

Roses in my cheeks. Bah! I needed a gun in my hand. Or a pitchfork. Or an axe. Anything that would hurt them like they were hurting us. But all God seemed to have left me were my prayers. I leaned back and the tears continued to stream down my face no matter how many times I tried to scrub them away. I knew what Thor was doing. You don’t light a fire with a whole log, you whittle it down to kindling first. My problem lay in that I’d never been forced to sit back out of a fight. The entire way I viewed myself was taking a beating. People always wonder if they are strong enough to fight; rarely though have I ever heard anyone mention that sometimes you have to be just as strong to know now to handle that you can’t fight. It is a real ego beater.

While I lay there in a daze Mr. Dink brought the chickens down and also left a bundle that turned out to be stuff for the baby. Good thing too because baby had figured out how to poop though she was still too young for it to stink. I was not unfamiliar with how to take care of babies as I’d helped in the hospital as a volunteer. I stayed hidden from the others and since it was usually in a specialty ward of some type … babies born with an addiction to match the ones their mothers had at their birth, babies born with deformities that kept them out of the “normal” baby ward, sick babies, abandoned babies … not too many “normals” cared. Human beings can be cruel even when they don’t mean to be.

I took care of the baby, fed her when she wanted it, did what I could to help the older ladies make the chicken into something besides a boiled mess, and then waited … and waited. I wanted Thor. I wanted to hear his voice, see his face, make sure that he was OK. Hear him tell me things were OK and that I was worrying for nothing. I wanted to go upstairs and do my part in shooting the bad guys; this was my home too.

But there was no going up stairs; at that moment I could not have climbed them on my own and certainly no one would help me. Thor didn’t come and I thought it was unlike him to not at least stick his head in to put my worries to rest. He didn’t come to check on his baby daughter either which sounded like him even less as he’d seemed already strangely attached even before she’d popped her way into this world. It always made me laugh to see this great giant of a man talking to my stomach in goofy baby sounds. I began to wonder if I’d ever laugh again. And then worse, after what sounded like a major battle over our heads no one came to check on us at all and the quiet that followed sounded far from healthy.

The older ladies wouldn’t let me go check. They wouldn’t go check either claiming it to be their duty to obey Thor’s orders and to protect the baby and keep me from taking any rash actions. I fed the baby once more and then the night seemed to trickle down into the basement as it must have by that point upstairs. The older ladies were exhausted and slid into a deep but troubled slumber.

Something was calling me to act. I knew with a certainty that I was going to catch heck from Thor but at the same time I had to act. Something was screaming at me, from outside of me; not literally but it was not a still quiet voice calling me either. There was purpose in that voice that gave me strength I shouldn’t have had. Seeing the ladies asleep and noting that the solar powered lamps would soon be out of juice I slowly and carefully made my way over to the exercise equipment.

One of the things that Thor and I had done was to secret weapons throughout the house. Since we didn’t exactly have a limitless supply of weapons and ammo by the time we got to the basement our choices had narrowed. If I had been in most any other room I could have put my hands on a semi-automatic pistol or some type of rifle or shotgun; down here we had been forced to resort to Dad’s antique gun collection. In this case it was an old 1920’s Mossberg Brownie pepperbox. It took .22lr’s which was a plus as far as ammo went but the four barrels of the hand-sized gun made it look passing strange, like something out of one of those old Dick Tracy or James Bond movies.

Beggars can’t be choosers however and I was ecstatic that the ladies hadn’t located it and put it out of my reach as they had the rifle that Mr. Dink had left us for security. Granny C knew me too well and was practically sleeping with the blasted thing and I wasn’t going to go over there and wrestle her for it. In my condition she might well have won and I’d rather not have to live with being beaten by a woman who was close in age to my own grandmothers.

I took the pepperbox over to my baby and looked down. Seeing that sweet little face I almost changed my mind, like a temptation that was almost too much to bear. I kissed her and did my best to stand back up straight. It felt quite literally like my insides wanted to fall out, something Miz Louise was said was a result of things trying to go back to where they belonged. I took two steps and realized I’d need to take care of some pressing personal hygiene before I went anywhere. This left me mentally growling about the physical realities of being a female.

Eventually everything was as taken care of as I could manage for the moment and I was finally able to do what I’d started out to do. The ladies and the baby were all still slumbering. I eased up the stairs one at a time while parts of my anatomy called me every kind of fool in the book. By the time I got to the landing I was almost sick and had to stand there while I mentally forced myself to get beyond the pain.

Steeling myself I carefully opened the hidey hole in the door and peered out and saw … nothing. I should have seen something even if it was just shadows but I saw nothing which isn’t what I should have been seeing. My dad had positioned this door and the peep hole so that it would have a very wide view of the kitchen and the side door. The nothing I was seeing that I shouldn’t have been seeing was wrong.

I realized with a start that my brain was misfiring and getting stuck so I stopped, took a deep breath and looked at that nothing again. And then I realized that I wasn’t seeing nothing, I was seeing the back of a something. Which was still wrong but at least it was less wrong. Something was in front of the door, or at least in front of the peep hole.

Thankfully the door opened towards me. I carefully opened the door and saw the back of the something. It was a big something and then I realized the something was my moveable pantry cabinet. It didn’t exactly move easily which made me stop and think again. And then I remembered Thor complaining after I had it move it for the umpteenth time that the only thing it was truly good for was for hiding whatever was behind it.

So, Thor … or possibly Stro … had moved the cabinet in front of the door. And left it there. To block us in … block me in. I asked myself if they trusted me so little but that didn’t fit what I knew … that was just the hormones talking … I hoped. Besides Thor knew I would be able to get out through the tunnels and it was possible that the other guys knew as well since they now new about the tunnels … or maybe some of the tunnels or ... Boy was my brain fried. I nearly had another crying fit. What bit of good was I going to do in my condition? I was physically weak and unfit for combat. My tear ducts were stuck in the on position. And the one thing that I’d always counted on to help me stay above all of the trials and tribulations I faced … my brain … was taking an unexpected vacation to hormonal land.

Suddenly I heard a sound on the other side of the cabinet and then a groan. An emotionless voice asked, “He talked yet?”

“Nope. Looks like we’re going to have to take him outside for the promised gelding,” replied a man who sounded like he was enjoying the situation more than a sane man should.

“Do it.”

Something kicked in. I asked the Lord for strength and wisdom and then backtracked down the stairs and over to Granny C who I shook awake as gently as I could to keep her from making any noise.

“Girl! You scared me.”

“Granny, there’s no time. Something has gone wrong. Bad wrong. Someone has hidden the door down to the basement and I heard … look, I need you to look after the baby. I’ve got to go …”

“Oh no you don’t girl. You just had a baby!”

“Shh! Granny, I don’t need you to tell me how unfit I am. I need you to just do what I’ve asked you to do. And I need that rifle.”

Granny didn’t give me the rifle … Miz Louise did. She just looked at me and the look on her face reminded me of Mr. Dink when he was at his strangest and I realized they were even more suited to each other than I had realized. When Granny C started to complain Miz Louise put her hand on her arm and I don’t know what passed between them but I was able to leave with no more fussing. I wanted to stop by the bassinet where I had laid my child but I knew if I did I might not have the will to leave her and go do what needed doing.

I managed to get into the tunnel and then shut the door. It was dark and I fumbled for the flashlight that should have hung on a hook within easy reach … only it wasn’t there. Something brushed my leg and I nearly screamed then I realized it was the cats. I slowly bent over to touch them and they were sticky damp. As I stepped forward my foot brushed something and it turned out to be the flashlight. How it had wound up there on the floor I didn’t know.

Then turned the light on and I look at the cats and nearly screamed again. Their normally white paws were rust colored. Then I saw Lady. She lay on her side. She was breathing but injured and dazed. She hadn’t growled at me since I had first found her but she did at that moment and I realized she was wrapped up with some bandaging. The professional look of it told me it was done by Jimmy Ray. From the marks on the floor she must have dragged herself this far and then collapsed. I would cry later and fuss over her if she made it.

The cats followed me and seemed to guide me down the tunnel to the barn. I was becoming detached mentally. The closer I got the worse the smell. The animals were lined up in the alcoves, all of them scared and quiet, even the rooster who barely took the time to hiss at me as I passed by. Jimmy Ray had used whatever was at hand to pen them in. And then I saw him. He looked like he’d just rolled down the ramp.

“Jimmy Ray?” I asked bending down the best I could, almost afraid to turn him over. He’d been pounded pretty heavily and there was a bullet wound in his left arm and another wound of some type on his right calf. “Don’t you dare be dead,” I whispered.

A ghostly voice muttered, “Hurt too bad to be dead.”

I was relieved beyond words to express it. “What’s happened?”

“Group was bigger than they first looked,” he told me in a breathy voice. “Us, then the first group, then Sand’s group … thought we had them dead to rights. Then another group came in behind Sand’s group. Worst mash up you’d even want to see. They over ran the farm. Oh God Rocky, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault … wait … what are you sorry for?” I had to know but at the same time I didn’t want to.

“Thor … they … they got him. They caught Stro and then started torturing him, trying to get the rest of us to come out of hiding. O’ course Johnson and Lawson … they buckled. They tried to rescue Stro … right in the middle of Thor making his move. Everything was mucked up. They threatened to kill all three if Thor didn’t come out. He did … but he’d already been hit a couple of times. Thor came out shooting and Lawson got away in all the craziness. They still took Thor down. Then Lawson, Mr. Dink, and I hooked up. I’d already hurt my leg so I sent Lawson to go get us some help as the fight had moved on further away. As I was covering him I got hit in the arm. Lost some blood. Mr. Dink disappeared into the night, don’t know where he is. Those men … they’re wanting to … to know …” I could tell he didn’t want to tell me, to explain the worst of it.

In a dead voice I asked, “What do they want Jimmy Ray?”

“You. Seems like you … you got a price on yer head. Some folks want you real bad for some reason. Think you can identify them or something to the authorities.”

“There aren’t any authorities.”

“Yeah, yeah there are … Gloria has been telling me what she finds out. I’ve been passing it to Thor. Hasn’t he been telling you?”

“No. I can imagine why though and I won’t hold it against him.”

“But … Rocky … They got him Rocky. I saw it all and couldn’t … I tried but … I got a couple but my vision keeps … it gets dark … I’m the only one left but I have to … it’s … it’s my duty …” But Jimmy Ray wasn’t doing anything. He’d collapsed again. I arranged him carefully and told the cats to leave him alone. Then I eased up to the trap door in the floor of the barn. All was dark inside and I crawled out. Not an animal or insect was making noise. It was like they sensed the embodiment of Death itself was walking the Earth, searching for even their small life forces to snuff out.

I was heaving by the time I had gotten all the way out. I crawled my way over to the barn door. It was torn half off of its hinges and the bar was splintered on the ground beside it. A tree trunk lay on the ground in front of the barn and I realized it had been used like a battering ram.

I nearly puked from my own pain and from the fear and disgust that rose up in me at what I saw. They had Johnson all trussed up for gelding. The tools of that trade were all lined up and a man stood there taking his time and milking the terror that was so thick in the air you could smell it.

Then I saw Cliff. He stood off to the side and the look on his familiar face truly did sicken me. It was a toss up to what he was feeling more … terror or glee. He said, “C’mon, you can stop this man. Tell them what they want to know. That’s all you got to do. They’ll stop the hurting. Trust me, I know.” But no matter what the words were coming out of Cliff’s mouth he couldn’t hide his unnatural anticipation.

Then by the firelight I saw a man tied to the hitching rail. His arms were stretched out on either side of him so tightly his chest was stuck to the cross beam. He was unconscious, his shirt torn from his bloody back. One boot and sock off show a bloody foot. His legs were collapsed but unable to fully sink into any kind of comfortable position due to the height of the rail and the man’s great stature. They’d sheared his unruly long hair off in a haphazard fashion making him look like an inexpertly shorn ram.

I went cold, so cold it didn’t feel like I’d ever warm back up again. Then before I even realized I’d gone looking for it I found it, that place inside me that was made of hot fired steel. The one that God let grow there for a purpose I’d never fully understood … but I was beginning to. It took the world coming to a screeching halt but I was finally beginning to.

I really tried not to hate folks. It’s not like I was still the innocent I had been that night in San Francisco. I’d done my share of killing over the last year and more. I’d hurt people and meant to. Even been disappointed a few times when those I’d hurt hadn’t hurt long enough before they’d left this world. Passed judgment and taken revenge when that was God’s job. I’d managed up to this point, or at least I thought I had, to keep that under control, to temper it with the compassion that God calls for all of us to give others, even our enemies. But the only compassion I was able to find for Cliff was the desire to release him from this life that had twisted him so badly. Whatever came afterwards for him was not my problem, nor my business. For the other men standing around I felt nothing, not one blessed thing. It was like they were nothing but gossamer shadows that I intended to rend out of my way.

The rifle I held in my hands was something that Thor had called a prototype of a new type of Bushmaster ACR. He never would tell me exactly where he’d picked it up but it had been one that he’d had in his stuff outside of Clarksville. I’d shot it a few times. It was a mean, nasty, powerful semi-automatic weapon and it suited my mood to a tee.

Chapter 95

Chapter 95

I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or throw a hissy fit. I must have wasted a good five or ten minutes just standing there leaning on the mantel asking the Good Lord above what I could possibly have done to have such wretched luck in my life. Then I reversed course and realized that God had blessed the heck out of me and every once in a while you simply had to walk through the fire to get to the next blessing so you’d appreciate it as you should. Being alone when I went into labor wasn’t the end of the world I told myself, but it still smoked fresh cow patties.

I finally opened my eyes and told Lady, “Well, since it isn’t like I have much choice I might as well get to it.”

Where babies and having them are concerned there is just no getting around the gross factor. Both Miz Louise and Granny C had told me living in fantasy land was just plain foolish and solved nothing. There was going to be a mess of bodily fluids of one sort or another to take care of so it was necessary to be prepared for them. I already had a hearth rug to wash; minimizing the rest of the mess I knew was coming was my top priority. Last thing I wanted to have to do was have the baby and five minutes later have to do a load of wash just so I could rest comfortable.

Lucky for me the hearth rug had a thick backing that had kept the wooden floor beneath it from getting wet. I picked it up and took it to the hallway bathroom and hung it over the shower rod. It didn’t smell as bad as wet dog but it didn’t smell fresh as daisies either so I sprayed it with a little disinfectant to keep it from souring before I could get around to cleaning it properly. I changed into a short, loose, cotton gown as well as an old scraggy robe that I belted for a little modesty. I also grabbed the pads and other birthing supplies recommended by the older ladies from the closet where we had stored them and started setting up my old twin bed for the inevitable. Sure, it might have been more traditional to have the baby in the master bedroom but traditional isn’t always practical. If I ruined a mattress I figured it was better that it be a spare one. The twin also was easier to find extra sheets and padding for; and most importantly for me at that moment was that it was easier for me to get in and out of in my condition.

I started a fire in the Franklin stove and set a couple of pots of water to warm. I was fighting nausea worse than I had that morning so I added a bucket and lid and then sat in the rocking chair we had moved in there and which I had also covered with an old quilt and more padding.

I looked around at the room reasonably satisfied. All of the nursery stuff was fixed up thanks to Thor’s patience though we both nearly threw the crib out of the window before we found the old and faded direction for putting it together.

I remember Thor asking, “What in the world? This thing looks more like a cage than a crib.”

Looking at what had been my bed for the first two years of my life I explained, “A regular crib didn’t work with me. I was too big and too strong. I tore two regular cribs up before one of the doctors snuck a hospital crib to my parents.”

“You tore up two cribs?” Thor asked disbelievingly.

“Yep. I could kick the bars out with no problem before I took my first steps. According to Dad I did it because I didn’t like being left out of things and when I was awake I had to be kept an eye on or I got into all sorts of trouble.”

It took me a long time to learn to walk but once I did I drove my parents crazy. They took turns with Mom taking the brunt of it when Dad had to drive the tractor or other farm equipment that I was too little to hold onto while it moved. She kept me safe and always knew just what to say to distract me from the pain that was nearly my constant companion when I was little. A tear rolled down my face. Suddenly I wanted my mom so bad I couldn’t hold it in.

It was two labor pains before I could pull myself back together. There’s no use crying over what you can’t have but I swore I was going to give Thor a little what for if the baby came before he got home. I also decided there was absolutely no way I was going to sit around feeling scared and sorry for myself. Canning was out since I was too worried about lighting the oven up and having a batch going so instead I decided to prep some apples for the cider press.

The stairs were no fun but once I reached the kitchen I was happy to have the distraction after being swamped by another pain that felt like someone was trying to play my spine like an accordion. I attached the apple peeler to the table and grabbed two five-gallon buckets. The peel would fall into the first one. In the second bucket I made a wet solution to prevent the apples from browning from oxidation.

I actually made it through two bushels of apples before I admitted that I was slightly demented. It was no fun cleaning up the kitchen but it was a lot more fun than climbing the stairs while it felt like Junior was banging on the door to be let out with a war hammer. That thought gave me the giggles. I looked at Lady who was following me everywhere as usual and said, “Appropriate don’t ya think?” The dog in turn gave me a look that told me she thought her human was losing it. I pretty much agreed with her. I sat on the top stair and laughed, cried, and groaned all at the same time.

It went that way all night. I did try twice to call on the radio but being able to transmit is only good when someone is on the other end to receive. No one was monitoring at the Heflings or in town and I wasn’t just going to cry out for help to complete strangers.

The pain increased and then ebbed several times until about four in the morning when it was like it changed. Lord have mercy I thought my insides were going to change places with my outsides, but after that a true rhythm began to set in to my labor. I tried to keep hydrated but if I drank anything I wound up spewing it back up when I was in the middle of a bad contraction. Having a contraction and throwing up at the time was too much like torture so I tried a different strategy. I washed my face and slathered my lips with thinned down honey to keep them from splitting open from dryness. I had the shakes pretty bad and I cried a few times wanting Thor home immediately.

I was out of water and I knew that I needed more or I was going to get dehydrated. I crawled down the stairs; there was no way I was able to walk down them. I was in the floor in the kitchen trying to not scream when Lady howled. I knew that call and added my voice to hers. “Thor!!”

No longer was the person at the door quiet. The lock turned and then practically flew off its hinges as it slammed into the wall.

“Rochelle!!” He rushed over and knelt beside me, “What’s wrong?! The baby? Is it the baby?!!”

I turned to him and if looks had physical weight he would have been crushed. I grabbed him by the collar and jerked myself up into his face and growled, “You … are … so … lucky. Had you missed this you have no idea how … upset … I would have been.” My voice sounded like ground up broken glass and the look on Thor’s face would have been priceless had I been in the mood to appreciate it.

“Uh …”

Then I heard another voice. “Lawson, Johnson run and get Miz Louise. Carry her if you have to but get her here now! Jimmy Ray can you do something with Lady? I don’t think Miz Louise is gonna appreciate a dog in the middle of the delivery. Thor … Yo, Thor!”

“Uh …”

“Man,” Stro chuckled. “Seriously Dude, you need to get her up off the floor and take her upstairs. And don’t look at me for help. Janie sprained my shoulder when she was in labor, I don’t even want to know what Rocky can do.”

I looked at him and he actually ducked and jumped back out of the door. That made Thor laugh and come back to himself. “That’s my Ro-chelle.”

I looked at him and told him, “Seriously? Do you have a death wish? Now is not the time to irritate me.”

“Nope, no death wish. Ro …” He gasped and held me as another pain took me over. I was gasping and panting like I’d been on the bottom of a major dog pile with no pads or helmet and barely registered that he picked me up and rushed up the stairs with me but as soon as he tried to put me down in our bed I redirected him to my old bedroom.

“How long have you been in labor?” he asked as he grabbed a cloth and started wiping my face.

“Yesterday, after you left. It just sort of happened.”

From out in the hall Stro asked, “She OK? Need anything?”

Another pain started to roll over me and I snarked, “Oh no, everything is just hunky dory … you doofus! I hope Tina beats you regular. Now go away and leave me some dignity.”

“Thor?” Stro asked like he hadn’t heard me.

“Eh …” Then after looking around he got up and grabbed one of the empty pots. “Here, get some water from the barrel in the kitchen. It has already been boiled and treated.”

I heard them whispering in the hallway. “I’m not dying you dopes,” I called out. “I know what is gonna happen. I’ve delivered enough farm animals that I’m not surprised here but … oh, oh, oh, oh …” I had to stop and breathe through another pain. “Just go away Stro and keep the boys out. If I’m gonna to lose my religion I’d rather not have anyone else hear it and hold it over my head for the next couple of generations.”

“Sure thing Rocky. And we’ll get the chores done. You just focus on doing what you gotta do.”

Suddenly the quiet left when Stro went downstairs started to feel poisonous. “Distract me.”

“Huh?” Thor asked like he was still trying to figure out what was going on.

“Dee … stract … me.”

“Don’t you need to concentrate or something?”

I looked him dead in the eyes and asked, “If you were trying to pass a large kidney stone with no pain killers would you want to be distracted?”

“Oh. Gotcha. What do you want to talk about ‘cause you really don’t want me to try and dance or sing to you or anything like that.”

I snorted a tired laugh since I knew for a fact that his tunes and buckets never met. “How about what happened last night?”

Thor sighed, “Hon …”

“Not liking being told no right now,” I said in a dangerously sing song tone of voice.

Thor shook his head. “OK Pistol but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” So between pains Thor pieced his night together for me. He went back to where the men had ambushed Stro and his brother. “The trail was easy to find. They dragged their dead for almost a hundred yards before rolling them down a steep ledge. After that it was a little harder but not much. By the time it got dark and I was starting to lose the markers I saw several small fires in the distance. There’s a large camp … couple dozen of them. While I was looking them over that guy Cliff showed up. Confirmed his identity based on my memory and your description, that birthmark is hard to miss even with just firelight.”

He went on to tell me how that while the camp was well armed they didn’t have much training. “They’re just a bunch of hammers looking for nails … but no real brains as far as I could tell from my initial impression.”

“What are you not telling me? And how did you hook up with the boys?”

He snorted, “Those ‘boys’ were doing the same thing I was only from the other side. Strother and I spotted each other and then we hooked up. Sand went back to report and the rest of us came back this way.”

“You still aren’t telling me everything. How do pigs come into this?”

“Oh. You heard.” I heard the hesitation and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like the cause.

Another pain, this one worse than the previous ones interrupted his explanation but he finally said, “Well, your boys were according to Sand ‘het up’ and looking for some pay back. After the camp went to sleep they basically took anything that wasn’t nailed down that they could get away with. The last thing were the pigs they found penned up some yards distant from the camp and …”

“What on earth are you doing boy?!”

That voice caught Thor in mid story. Apparently Granny C had been visiting Miz Louise early in the day since they planned on gathering some herbs and they were both standing there with hands on their hips giving Thor a look that could have melted granite.

“She asked to be distracted!”

“Out. Now. And don’t come back until you are clean. You smell like you’ve been rolling around in a bear den … and look like it too. Is this the way you want to look when your child gets their first look at you? Sakes alive, a man your age ought to have more sense.” Granny C always did know how to manage the male of the species and put them in their place.

The long and the short of it is I labored for several more hours. I heard them murmur a few times but mostly all I could do was deal with the pain I was in. A few times I got up and walked around but my knees kept giving out. The only thing keeping me from kissing the floor was Thor’s own strength.

I must have been getting a little delirious towards the end. I remember hearing Thor ask the ladies if they thought the baby was too big but didn’t hear their response. It was about that time that it felt like I was being split in half. I don’t care how tough you think you are, trying to shoot the proverbial watermelon through a straw will make anybody scream.

I remember being told to push and push and then not push and to hold off and then to push again. There was a huge pressure in my pelvis and then … goosh. Don’t remember a whole lot for a little bit but I knew that something wasn’t quite as it should be. Thor was just holding me and saying something over and over. “It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok.” Finally after longer than it should have been I heard the baby give a weak cry and Granny C brought the baby over and laid her on my chest.

I must have been pretty loopy because I said, “Hey, look, a pink elephant.”

Thor kissed my forehead and said, “Don’t you call our daughter that.”

I complained, “You always get what you want. She’s …” I looked at Granny C and Miz Louise would was apparently stitching me up though I was too numb down there at the time to realize it. “Is … is … she like me? I mean …”

Granny C broke into a smile, “You have yourself a heifer dear but I think she’ll be fine, she’s just tuckered from trying to arrive in this world. Eleven pounds and some if I don’t miss my guess, one of the bigger babies that I’ve delivered but certainly not the biggest. I delivered that Hansel girl’s baby before you were born and it was certainly bigger than yours … but she had gestational diabetes. Let me measure my marks over here and … Lord have mercy, no wonder she looks like a string bean. Twenty-four inches, my lands. And those feet … I doubt those newborn socks are going to fit her at all.”

I croaked, “Poor thing, I think she takes after me.” I did feel sorry for the baby because I could imagine all of the difficulties in front of her.

Thor on the other hand had a completely different take on it as witnessed by his words, “Thank goodness. I’m not sure what I would do if we had one of those small, peanut sized ones. I’d be afraid of breaking it.”

His tone of voice was so serious and so relieved it stopped my tears in their tracks and I had to chuckle but that was about the last I had left in me. The baby girl I held in my arms picked that moment to really squall and I had to learn real fast about how to nurse her or she seemed like she was going to bring the house down. Thor was mesmerized by the whole process but boy howdy, every time the baby sucked there was a hard tug on my uterus ... my very, very sore uterus. If not for the endorphins that nursing leaks from the brain I would have been in some serious pain. Instead I had a hard time keeping my eyes open and doped up look off my face. Eventually the baby was satisfied enough to turn loose and I all but collapsed in exhaustion. I remember someone taking the baby and telling me to rest but for the life of me I can’t remember who.

I slept for a while but woke up when boots thundered up the stairs. “Thor! There’s more of them and I spotted Cliff too!”