Monticello, Kentucky was one of the biggest cities we’d been through in a while. Their green population sign said nearly six thousand people lived there. Another sign said it was the houseboat manufacturing capital of the world. Despite both of those things said there was nowhere near that number of people from what we could see. There were people there and that’s a fact, but not six thousand of them. And the people we did see tended to keep to themselves. Not what you would call unfriendly but definitely not looking to make our acquaintance either.
We did get a nod from a couple of older men that looked like they were walking to a local fishing site but that didn’t come until after I had chased a piece of litter that was blowing down the road. Habit for me I suppose – always leaving a place cleaner than you find it – but I guess it meant something to those men because the nods were of approval. It made me want to make double sure that we cleaned up our camp before heading out.
We seemed to be the only ones on the road until the tolling of a bell reminded me it was Sunday. “Thor, let’s get out of here.”
He looked at me and asked, “What’s got you spooked?”
“Nothing … well, not exactly. I just don’t want to have any run ins with folks who might be on their way to church.”
He looked at me harder and said, “I thought you liked all of that stuff.”
“It isn’t ‘that stuff’ and I do like it but not knowing how the people are that are left I’d rather not risk any kind of confrontation in case we are breaking some local rules.”
Thor reminded me, “We just saw two men going fishing. I don’t think they string you up around here for missing a church meeting.”
I shrugged. “Maybe not but I’ve just got the heebie jeebies a bit so humor me and let’s head on out, OK?”
I couldn’t explain myself too well to Thor. I was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with us not having a piece of paper to prove we were committed but it could have had something to do with the run in I’d had with those travelling revivalists years before. Either way I thought I’d rather be safe than sorry and avoid the locals. Doc must have spooked me more than I wanted to admit.
We took this little road called 92 out of Monticello and headed east-southeast and around lunch time we passed through this dead little town called Coopersville. It was a place that had seen something but I’m not quite sure what. The intersection that made up the town was full of saw horses and the remains of equipment with the US federal government insignia on them.
“What do you think happened here? I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this.” I asked Thor.
Thor was keeping a close eye out. “Don’t touch anything. Don’t let the horses drink the water or chew on anything. Let’s pass on through as quick as possible.”
I did as he asked and he didn’t relax until we got to the other side of the town and away for a bit. “Thor?”
“The Feds should have come back for their equipment. Local salvagers should have taken the equipment even if the Feds forgot to get it. What it was doing just laying there piled up like that with not a soul in sight is beyond me Hon; just no sense in taking any chances. It is awful quiet down through here, quiet in a way that doesn’t feel natural.”
“Hmm, it is quiet but there are places in the mountains that feel like this. I always just put it down to the ghosts of time.”
That got a cough of unexpected laughter from him. “What?!”
“Don’t laugh. People where I’m from are a superstition bunch but we aren’t that backwards. Ghosts of time is just … I don’t know how to explain it exactly. Haven’t you ever been to some house that is just really, really old … or maybe to a battle field or some other historic place … and get this … this feeling? Like if you just unfocused your eyes a little and listened really, really good you could hear the past, maybe see something that went on before?”
I expected him to laugh again but he didn’t. “There are places over in the Middle East that …” He stopped for a moment thinking. “You ever known anyone that visited Jerusalem?”
“We had someone come speak at the church once that had. He and his wife did a Power Point show for the youth group. They talked about how it felt to walk in some of the same places Jesus would have walked.”
Thor nodded. “Jerusalem can be a dangerous place and we were running guard duty for some visiting dignitaries but we had a lot of down time and I played tourist. There is a feeling to those places. I’ve been to Baghdad, Ephesus, Cairo, lots of places like that. I never wanted to call them haunted but they do seem to exude something. If you want to call it the ghosts of time then … then I guess that’s good enough. I just don’t think this quiet is that kind of quiet. Sure, there is an underlying natural silence to this area but there’s something else here. Can’t you feel it?”
I don’t know whether I was being susceptible or not but I did start to feel like we were being watched. It wasn’t until we entered the Daniel Boone National Forest that the feeling began to subside.
“What was that?” I asked Thor quietly as we made camp off the highway near a little town called Yamacraw.
“Somebody interested in who we were or who would have encouraged us to move along if we had thought of staying.”
“Well aren’t you all calm and junk,” I said a little snarkily.
He smiled at me which only irritated me more. “If they’d meant to hurt us Hon they would have done more than watch from a distance. Hand me that line.”
I handed him the rope to secure the tent and said, “I’m not a coward Thor.”
He gave me an incredulous look, “I never said you were. But I also know you don’t like strangers looking at you and that is part of your reaction to what was happening. I don’t get a feeling that we’re still being watched so try and relax.”
“Relax he says,” came out of my mouth with a huge eye roll.
Thor had finished the last few things that needed to be done to finish securing our camp and I’d finished cleaning the last dish from dinner. Thor sat down and leaned against a rock and patted the ground beside him and grinning wickedly said, “Bet I can help you relax.”
I couldn’t help it, I laughed. “That wouldn’t relax me, that would wind me up.”
He only grinned that much more and foolish me I went and sat beside him anyway. He put his arm around me and said, “Seriously Hon, I think we’re OK here.”
“You still want to sleep in shifts,” I reminded him.
He shrugged and grinned and said, “Well, it never hurts to make sure.”
There wasn’t any tomfoolery that night, just sitting close and enjoying each other in a way that we hadn’t felt free to do when we had been part of the much larger caravan. We didn’t do a lot of talking but what there was was substantive.
“Where’re the maps?” I asked Thor.
“Why? Isn’t it a little late?”
“I want to count up the miles until we reach Damascus.”
“A little over two hundred miles assuming we don’t have to do much backtracking,” Thor tossed at me nonchalantly.
I sat up real quick. “Really?! Is that all?!!”
He grabbed me and pulled me back into his arms. “Little excited aren’t we? Am I going to have to tie you down to keep you from floating away?”
I poked him in the ribs. “At twenty miles a day that’s … that’s … Thor … less than two weeks and we’ll be home!” I did feel like floating at the very thought.
Thor sighed. “Easy there Hon. Once we get into the mountains we aren’t going to be making twenty miles a day, especially at some of those grades it shows on the maps. Two many of those six, seven, and eight percent grades and we’ll be lucky to make ten a day. And we need to think about a rest day pretty chop chop. The horses need it and we do too. You’ve got dark circles under your eyes.”
“Yeah … oh. But …”
“But?” I asked, holding out some hope.
“But I think it is certainly possible for us to get where we’re going before the middle of October; less than a month so long as we don’t run into any problems.”
He brushed a lock of hair out of my eyes. “It’s not that bad. We’ve been making good time.”
“Oh I know. I’m just anxious. We are going to need the time to get situated before the really cold weather sets in. And we have got to get you some warm clothes. I want to start keeping an eye out for more clothes for you. I could kick myself for not doing it sooner, there just never seemed to be the time. And now with winter approaching everyone is going to be looking for warm clothes and it’s just going to get harder.”
He didn’t deny that we had a problem but he said, “What about you?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve got more clothes than I want to even think about. Mom was a seamstress by vocation and … and … hey,” I ended quietly.
“And what has suddenly started rolling around in that head of yours Ms. Charbonneau ‘cause I know that look.”
I grinned at him in the dark. “Mom used to do some sewing for a cousin of my dad’s who lived in Abingdon. I bet the patterns are still around in her files. Claude was built sorta like you but not quite so tall. I bet with a little adjusting in the length the patterns would work for you though.” I shook my head to clear it. “But I still would like to get you some good long johns and a good winter coat. I can knit or crochet some stuff – and I will if I have to – but some of that fancy gear that was on the market would be nice for you to have. Good trail gear would be nice too and we both need as many spare boots as we can get. Maybe we should take some time to salvage before heading straight to the farm.”
“Sweetheart, you’ve got steam coming out of your ears. Slow down, we aren’t even in Virginia yet.”
“Don’t be a goof,” I told him absently while I pulled out my notebook and started making notes of potential places to look for what Thor and I needed.
“Speaking of salvage,” Thor said quietly. “I had a dream last night.”
“Hmmm?” After what he said finally penetrated I looked at him and asked, “A dream? From the look on your face that must have been some dream.”
He nodded seriously but didn’t seem to know exactly how to explain. He finally sighed and just spit it out. “You know I’ll be … er … careful with you right?”
I just kind of looked at him not sure where he was going. He squirmed a little bit before being able to continue. “Babies. That’s usually what comes from fooling around with no protection. I’ll be careful but … well …”
I must have just sat there and looked at him for a full minute before getting up the courage to ask, “You … you don’t want kids?”
“No! I mean yes, yes I do. I just mean … it’s not like there’s going to be a doctor around when it happens and … I’ve done a lot of things in my lifetime but deliver a baby hasn’t been one of them. I’ll be honest Rochelle, I think on it and all the spit evaporates out of my mouth.”
I smiled, “Oh, is that all. Don’t scare me like that. I’ll have the baby at home that’s all.”
“That’s all. That’s all?!”
“Don’t squeak Thor, it sounds funny coming out of a guy your size. What else can I do? I may rip your ears off if you get too close while I’m doing it but I figure if women have being giving birth in the bushes since the beginning of time I should be able to do it too.” I shrugged, trying not to let him see that I was a whole lot more nervous about the prospect than I was letting on.
“What if the baby is … is big?”
“Big like me?” I asked a little defensively.
“Bike like us,” he corrected. “Neither one of us is what would be called average sized. Mom had to be cut to get me out.”
“My mom too, but that was unusual circumstances and they didn’t want her to even try. I’m not small like Mom is … was I mean. For all I know Thor …” I stopped, not even willing to voice my fears.
He sighed in exasperation. “Rochelle this better not be one of your nothings that mean anything but. Now what?”
I hemmed and hawed but finally told him, “What if I can’t Thor?”
“Make babies. Will you …”
“Then we’ll go out and adopt us one or a dozen. Don’t go borrowing trouble.” He hugged me and tried to comfort me.
“Well,” I said trying to get my balance. “Either way that is some time off. But if we do have kids … the kind we make or the kind we adopt … most of the stuff for them is probably already in the attic or the basement storage. I know my old cradle and bed is and I know there is a trunk with a ton of clothes in it all wrapped up in cedar. Don’t need a bottle ‘cause there won’t be any store bought formula. We’ll have to figure something for diapers but the pioneers did it with next to nothing so I figure we’ll manage. Everything else we’ll figure as we go I expect.”
He grinned and said, “Thank you.”
“What for?” I asked confused at the sudden change in him.
“For not having hysterics. For not laughing at my concerns. For being prepared to do something concrete and constructive without throwing it all back in my lap. But mostly just for being you.”
Well then we did get up to some tomfoolery but not much because it was getting late and we’d be taking turns on watch that night.
The next morning I more than agreed with Thor that we needed to find a place to stop for a day or two to rest but we wouldn’t find it that day. The grades weren’t too bad to Pine Knot, a town about the fifth of the size of Monticello, but they weren’t that great either and by the time we made it to Creekmore it was already turning towards dusk and both man and beasts were too tired to do much but make camp out in the wooded area behind a small house off the highway and get some rest.
The next day we counted it up and we’d only made thirteen miles proving Thor’s concern was valid with regard to not making as much time as we had up to that point it was just neither one of us had expected it to start happening quite so soon. That day was a bit better as we made 17 miles into Williamsburg and boy was Williamsburg a surprise.
We pulled into town and a man directed us to a large green space where a lot of other wagons and tents were set up. “You two must be here for the games. Good, we’ve lost most of the regulars that used to do it and those that are left are now the judges.”
Thor gave me a look that said to let him lead things along. He turned to the man and very casually said, “Well, that’s more than we’ve heard. Maybe we should just keep going then.”
“What?! No, now don’t do that. We really do need some more participants and they start tomorrow. Remember, participants get fed and winners do even better. I assume your woman …”
Thor said warningly, “I wouldn’t assume anything if I were you.”
“Huh? Oh, I didn’t mean nothing by it. She’s free to compete too if she likes but she’ll have to take her chances just like everyone else. Check the roster at the camp and then get signed up as early as you can so we know how many we’ll need to provide for.”
In the day and age we suddenly found ourselves you didn’t turn down a free meal and it turns out the games looked like they might be fun. Wrestling, wood chopping, races of all kinds, ax and knife throwing, horsemanship … reminded me a bit of the Highland Games.
“You up for this?” Thor whispered as I signed up for wood chopping and ax throwing.
I shrugged and said, “Why not? A few games ought to be fun. I don’t want to do anything with the horses though and I won’t sign up for any wrestling until I see the other competitors.”
I heard a grumbling rumble which told me Thor wasn’t too keen on the idea of me wrestling. “OK, I won’t if you don’t like it. My shoulder ought to be fine but then again the last thing I want is to twist it so soon after the other injury.”
“Then should you be doing any of it?”
I smiled and reminded him, “It was my left shoulder Thor and I’m a righty. And besides, I’m in it for fun not necessarily to beat anyone’s record.”
The next rumble wasn’t so grumbly which told me we’d struck a compromise we could both live with. Of course, life being what it is the next day didn’t work out quite as planned.