Cooper; new stuff added 12/24/2018

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Oct 03, 2018 4:56 am

Here's the next part. It took a turn, and I had to see where it went, I hope that you all enjoy it for what it is.

Cooper was taking inventory in the walkout basement of the homestead, shifting through the bins of potatoes and carrots and parsnips and apples that were in the drawer system they had built for cold storage. From the rafters hung salted and dried meat, braided strings of onions and garlic; still in the racks against one wall were the precious few bottles of Before wine they had left, and a few of a fairly good local vintage which had been barreled in the first year of After. Stacked along with a tub of salt were a couple of small casks of wine, a few more of corn beer, and a case of Jim Beam, which Cooper kept in the cellar to remove the temptation of opening them. The rest of the wine racks were taken up with canned foods; shelving held the last of the Before supplies, of which there were still two packages of toilet paper and a can of coffee he was hording. Both of those items were worth more than gold to many people. Cooper—never a biblical pundit—seemed to recall that bread was supposed to be worth more than gold, but then, toilet paper had yet to have been invented when that was written. Cooper had the door open to provide light even though there was snow on the ground, mainly because the solar panels had been working overtime to keep the batteries charged and even with the LED bulbs, lighting was becoming a problem. If they did not get a few days of constant sunshine, there would be no casual lighting at the homestead, nor would the fan circulate the heat from the wood burner to the outer rooms of the house. They might all be sleeping in the great room if the skies remained overcast with flurries every other day.

Because of the open door he was able to hear the sound of bells from out on the road. The noise made him pause; for a moment Cooper had a hard time identifying the sound. Then he realized that the faint chimes were from a horse with a bell attached to the bridle. It reminded Cooper of the commercials of the past, the ones which used the sound of a small bell to invoke false memories of a shared past, an idea which put forth snow was pleasant, sleighs were fun, and horses could draw them effortlessly. The truth was that sleighs were only as warm as your last layer, and the horses worked hard and spent most of the trip passing gas. Cooper did not know why his mind had wandered in this way; he laughed and put it off to the power of the bell to invoke the memories.

Pausing, Cooper listened as the bell seemed to stop it’s ringing at the mouth of his driveway. It had been snowing for several days and now the sun bore full down on the mountainside—a momentary boon to his depleted batteries—melting the top layers of the snow with power enough to fool them all into thinking it was actually warmer than it was. Before he had come into the basement, Cooper was working to replenish the wood pile. He had already cleaned up the solar panels; tightened connections which had worked loose in the heating and rapid cooling, adjusted the angle of the panels, and fixed a down spout which had pulled away from the house. Cooper stepped out of the dimness of the cellar and looked over at the end of the wood pile where he had leaned his bolt action rifle. He should have brought the rifle inside with him, and he knew this even as he gauged the distance to the .308. They had trouble with a dog pack not long ago—a problem solved with the help of neighbors—and there were still bear sightings; which Sanjana had insisted were good things.

Casually, Cooper stepped to the end of the stack to put the rifle close at hand. He did not know of anyone on the mountain who owned a horse with bells on the bridle. From the direction the bells had been coming there was the possibility the horse and rider were from the valley, however, Cooper could not think of a reason why they would come up to the mountain in the snow; there was an actual doctor in the valley still, and the closest thing the mountain had to that was Patricia, who was almost a Nurse Practitioner. Maybe the doctor was sick? Cooper looked at the rifle and stepped out toward the driveway, keeping within arm’s length of the firearm. On the balcony deck of the homestead, Cooper heard footsteps. Jessica called to him. Stepping out from under the overhand created by the second story deck, Cooper looked up and saw her. He smiled whenever he saw her; the stocking hat she had on made her hair puff out around her face, and the Carhart jacket—one of his—hung off her frame, making her look much younger than she was. He was happy that she was armed with the AK. Behind her, the puppy Cooper had acquired was barking from the safety of the interior of the house. She moved the small animal aside with her foot to pull the door shut. He closed the door to the basement, shooting the bolt that dropped the lock in place.

“Where’s your rifle?” asked Jessica.

“Right here,” said Cooper, walking to the end of the wood pile and picking it up.

“You should have it with you.”

“I know,” he told her. Cooper patted his hip where his pistol was holstered under the wool flannel shirt. “I have my Glock.”

Her face displayed only disapproval as he tried to cover his faux pas with a smile. “I wonder who it is?”

“Not sure, I can’t think of anyone who puts bells on their horse.”

“How do you know it’s a horse?” asked Jessica.

It was a valid question. “I’m guessing.”

“Should I ring the bell?”

They had a dinner bell—a triangle made of wrought iron—which they used to call the others in for dinner when working chores, to call out warnings or when people arrived at the house. There was a system of chimes all had agreed upon, and a steady banging on the triangle meant danger. Cooper considered this.

“Just call them in,” he decided.

David and Sanjana were at the barn mucking out the stalls, and Leticia was up at El Rancho de Montana visiting her ailing grandfather, el Jefe. Cooper didn’t know how important it was to have the others there for the arrival of the horse and rider, however it would be good to have the extra guns, just in case. Jessica nodded to him and disappeared back into the house, pushing the dog away again to get inside. Cooper took up a position near the wood pile to watch the driveway.

They had set the wood pile up so that it could be used to as a snow fence to keep the cellar door clear, provide cover for observing the front yard, and as a firing position if needed to defend the front of the house. The size of the position varied with the amount of wood, but it was better than trying to seek cover behind the deck posts supporting the balcony.

Cooper leaned against the snow covered stack, his breath puffing out in clouds in the cold air, and wished he had put on more than the thick wool shirt and the layer of long johns and t-shirt he now wore. But since he had been working and moving, he had forgone the heavy outer layer. The wind blew a dusting of frozen particles in his face as Jessica rang the dinner bell four times, paused, and then again, the signal to come to the house. The bells on the bridle jingled through the trees and a horse and rider appeared around the corner of the driveway. The horse looked tired; its head hung low, the hooves lifted just high enough to clear the snow, and the tail barely swished. In the saddle, the rider was covered with a blanket, a shapeless lump on the back of the horse, but for what seemed to be a wide sombrero on his head. Cooper could, however, see that the rider was searching the front of the house for some sign of life. The horse stopped at the bend in the drive and the rider stood in the saddle for a moment and then called out.

“Hello in the house?” There was a pause as the man—it was a man—seemed to take a deeper breath to speak again. “Hello? Is anyone in the house?”

Cooper heard the French door open to the deck, and the dogs barking turned into snarling howls. Cooper was glad to hear the warning sounds coming from the dog; maybe it would not be totally worthless around the house. He heard David give a low call to him from the corner of the garage where his friend had stopped on seeing the horse and rider. Cooper nodded to himself and stepped away from the woodpile, just far enough to be noticed.

“Hello,” returned Cooper.

“My name is Lyle,” called the man. “I make the wine; you traded for some of it last summer. We met down in the valley.”

“Of course,” said Cooper, remembering the wine more than the man. “Are you alone?”

“I am.”

“Come on up,” invited Cooper. “We can put up your horse and get you warm.”

The horse moved toward the house. David stepped out to join Cooper.

“Wonder what he’s doing here?”

“No clue,” said Cooper. “But we’ll find out.”

The horse stumbled up to where they stood and Cooper grabbed the reins. Lyle was unwrapping a layer of scarf from around his face and pulling off the sunglasses which had protected his eyes from the snow and wind. The face was covered by a beard which was red and thick. He eased back a colorful sombrero to expose a brown stocking cap. The rider looked exhausted as he nodded to them.

“I’d like to take care of my mule,” said Lyle, his hazel eyes clear through the exhaustion.

“Sure,” said David. “Follow us.”

David took lead of the bridle which was hung with bells and Cooper fell in beside the mule and rider, looking over the gear strapped to the animal, and seeing very little of it. There was a large bed roll, which Cooper assumed was the man’s sleeping bag and probably a ground cloth and tarp or tent, and a pair of thin saddle bags. A rifle the like of which Cooper had never seen hung from the saddle horn by the sling. It was a semiauto, or the like, and had a magazine like the ARs, but the short weapon’s handle seemed to be in the middle of the rifle. The man wore leather motorcycle chaps over his jeans, and Cooper knew the man must be near frozen, even if he had long johns on under the jeans. They reached the barn. When David swung open the big door the mule nearly knocked him down in its hurry to get into the warmer interior and out of the cold.

Once inside, David closed the door and Lyle shed the wool blanket he had over his shoulders to swing down off the shaggy mount. Cooper took the blanket and shook it out, the snow and ice falling to the straw covered dirt floor. Under the blanket, Lyle wore a brown leather jacket; under the jacket, he wore a hoodie—a wool Baja in Rasta colors—and the butt of a pistol jutted from a leg holster just covered by the tails of the Baja. The look was one of a bandito from the old western movies. Lyle took the rifle off the saddle and leaned it against the wall before stripping the horse of the gear, which he tossed against the wall with the rifle. Cooper and David helped him, taking the saddle and putting it over a saw horse and they provided rags to wipe the horse down with. Once the animal was dried and secure in a stall with a bucket of feed, Lyle picked up the rifle and the saddle bags. David grabbed the bed roll. Lyle stared at the feed.

“You ready for some hot tea and maybe some stew?” asked Cooper, making the rider look away from the bucket of grain with a start. “We have some venison stew and cornbread.”

“I am more than ready for that, thank you,” said Lyle. “I had a baked potato for dinner yesterday. That was the last time I ate.”

“How long you been on the road?” asked Cooper.

“Three days?” wondered Lyle. “About that, I guess.” He grinned. “I spent a whole day in a shed while it snowed so hard I couldn’t see the trees around me. I was afraid I’d wander off the road and get lost. So, I stopped. I suppose that’s why I ran out of food; I spent a day too long waiting out the storm.”

“We’ll fix that,” said Cooper as David led the way to the house. Lyle nodded and followed.



Lyle tried to rack his rifle, but it was too short, and he ended up hanging it by the sling. He took off the gunbelt which held his pistol and a big bowie knife Cooper had not noticed before. The puppy barked several times at the man before it allowed Lyle pet it. Quiet, but still unsure of the guest, the dog went to sit in the great room near the fire where it could keep an eye on the stranger. Lyle shed his jacket and the scarf, peeled himself out of the chaps and boots, exposing thick wool camping socks, which he took off as well, having another layer of thin socks under the wool ones. Cooper saw the man had a shoulder holster on, and a heavy looking revolver in the holster. Saying nothing about the revolver, Cooper lead Lyle to the kitchen. Sanjana made tea and Cooper and Jessica herded the boy into the great room with the dog before beginning to warm the corn bread left over from the dinner before and scooping the stew into an oversized ceramic bowl. The stew was in a Dutch oven kept warm by the wood burning stove in the kitchen. David ushered Lyle to the rough wood table where he could sit and sip the tea and eat. Finally, there was food and drink set before him. Cooper got out a jug of corn beer which had also been warming by the stove and poured everyone a glass. They let Lyle dig into the stew, its contents mostly root vegetables nearing the end of their shelf stability. Holding up his spoon, Lyle inspected a chunk of dark orange vegetable.

“Squash or pumpkin?”

“Butternut squash,” said Jessica, sipping at the warm corn beer.

“It’s good, and sweet, and salty,” said Lyle. “We get some of that salt ya’ll got from the coast over on our mountain.”

“That was an interesting run,” said David.

“You going back in the spring?”

Cooper and David looked at each other, and then at Jessica and Sanjana. David laughed lightly. “Probably not us, specifically, but probably people from here.”

Lyle nodded and ate more of the stew. Crumbling the corn bread into the broth, Lyle mixed the slightly dry muffin into the stew and took several more bites. He scraped the bottom of the bowl and Jessica offered to get him more. He shook his head, “I need to let that hit before I stuff myself.”

“We have some pear jam,” offered Jessica. “If you want another muffin.”

“That would be good,” decided Lyle. “Go nice with the tea. Where did you get the sage?”

“We had a couple seeds take off a couple years ago,” answered Jessica as she stood. “The plants got big and bushy and thrived and came back every year so far. I hope they survive the cold. I hope a lot of our herbs survive; otherwise meals might get boring until we can get replacements.”

“I’ve got a rosemary that has nearly outgrown the garden,” said Lyle. “If your sage comes back, maybe we can trade, I’d like a cutting to start.”

“You’ll have to remember that come spring; maybe met and trade down at the village? Washington will probably be having more market days next year.”

“I can do that; but you have to remember we’re further away from Washington than you,” said Lyle. “Almost a full day; that’s why you don’t see us over there much.”

“I suppose that I didn’t think about that.” Jessica left the table to fill his glass and get another corn muffin and the jam.

“What does bring you across the valley to this side of the mountain?” asked Cooper.

Lyle grinned and accepted the tea and the muffin. He put a thick layer of butter on the muffin and slathered it with the jam until it was oozing off the sides. “I love fruit jam. It’s been one of the blessings of this whole stupid situation.”

They watched as he took a big bite and closed his eyes to chew. After swallowing, he smiled at them. The smile was sad.

“There’s a sickness and we need antibiotics.”

For a moment, everyone stared at Lyle as if he had just sprouted a third eye.

Sickness was no laughing matter, and if Lyle had brought the germs to the homestead, they could risk being sick as well. Plagues spread in these ways. Sanjana quickly stood and went over to the boy to move him into his room away from Lyle. Jessica stood as well, her fear and anger quick on her face. Lyle shook his head at their alarm. “I’m fine; we have a nurse who gave me the once over and we have an amateur chemist who developed a culture test to see who was sick and who was not.”

“We don’t have antibiotics,” said Cooper cautiously, thinking the man might believe they had drugs to trade. Jessica gave Lyle a hard look before going to check on her child.

“No,” agreed Lyle. “But you do have gasified trucks.”

“What does that have to do with antibiotics?” asked Cooper.

Lyle sat back and toyed with his tea mug.

“One of the other guys on the mountain knows of a warehouse that has some stuff stored in it,” explained Lyle. “It has a couple of these medical shipping crates in it. The crates were staged there for rapid deployment to disaster areas. In the boxes are all kinds of things like field surgical kits, emergency medical kits, and in the kits are shelf stable medicines. If we can get to those kits, I can get the antibiotics. With a gasified truck, I can cut my travel time down by days.”

“There’s a lot of snow,” mentioned Cooper.

The smile flashed again on Lyle’s face. “You need to get off the mountain, Cooper; the valley on the other side of this mountain is clear; the storage unit is over toward Barkley, down in the big valley.”

“How do you know this?” asked a skeptical David.

Lyle shrugged. “Just because the world has turned upside down for us, doesn’t mean the weather patterns have changed in the world. You know that the big valley is protected by the mountains and because of the weather patterns, the snows usually dump here on you and on us before petering out and only dropping a little there. That’s usually gone in a few days; it’ll stay cold—in the high 30s—but the snow will melt.”

David gave a hard laugh. “I suppose. But we still have to get the truck off the mountain.”

“Careful driving will do that.”

“Just like that?”

“Why not?”

“What do we get out of this?” asked Cooper.

Laughing, Lyle waved a hand at the table. “Antibiotics. Medicine. Hell, a surgery kit? Whatever. We can split the contents of the crates.”

“How do we know they are still there? That stuff—if it’s still there—is at least four years old.””

“We don’t,” said Lyle. “But I’m willing to take the chance. It’s shelf stable, packaged and designed to last through some pretty harsh conditions.” Lyle looked around the table. “Listen, you don’t have to go; I was passing by here on my way there. Ya’ll have a reputation for lending a helping hand. While freezing my ass off on the way over here, I thought about the gasifier you have and that it would make a difference. If you’re not comfortable going, I understand. If you don’t care, I’d crash here and move on in the morning. My mule could use some rest out of the weather, and I could use some hot food.”

Cooper thought for a moment. He looked over at David, who was slowly shaking his head. By the expression on his friend’s face, Cooper knew that David was already regretting the fact that Cooper was going to agree to go with the man. They had spoken about passing the buck when these types of things came up; but it was simply not in his nature. Cooper sighed. “If there’s nothing there, I get two casks of your wine, bottled. I’ll want something for my troubles.”

“Deal,” said Lyle without an argument.

“If this other guy knows where it’s at, why are you here?” asked David.

“He’s sick,” replied Own. “But he drew me a map.”

Pulling up his saddle bags, Lyle pulled out a Rand McNally book which held road maps of the counties. He put aside his mug and lay the book out so that David and Cooper could see the maps. For a brief moment Cooper felt nostalgic for routing GPS and internet mapping. He supposed Global Positioning Systems still worked—if the GPS unit could be charged. The thought made him wonder where his old Garmin might be. It was probably shoved at the back of a drawer somewhere in the house. Cooper pulled his attention back to the map Lyle was pointing at.

“I mapped out a route to the place,” Lyle was saying. “Of course, some of it will depend on road conditions; if there are bridges out, if the road has been blocked by something or is even passable.”

“There are bandits along the way,” put in David. Lyle looked up at the man, the question showing clearly on his face. David supplied the answer. “We heard right before the snows the MC in Hartsville had broken up. Apparently, there was a raid there which killed a bunch of the higher echelon. The rumor was that a Hispanic gang hit them, and now what’s left has taken to banditry around Hartsville and the valley.”

“How do they operate without motorcycles?”

“Horses; it’s like the Wild West,” surmised David. He made pistols with his fingers. “Kerchiefs and stickups.”

“So, the Valley is that dangerous?”

“Like them or not, the MC was a stabilizing force in the area,” put in Cooper. “When they collapsed, it created a vacuum that hasn’t been filled yet. Things were still sorting themselves out. But Barkley is to the north of there, at the other end of the valley; they might not be feeling the effects yet. Spring time might be a different story.”

Sitting back in the chair, Lyle pondered the news. “You get more information than we do. It seems a lot of the news stops in Washington and never makes it up to my side of the mountain.”

“We also have an information source you don’t; Emily’s horse trading business brings people and news from all over the place.”

Giving a small grunt of derision, Lyle leaned back to the map. “That must be nice; not much call for the wine trade right now.”

“Things will come back around,” shrugged Cooper. “There’s no telling what the spring will bring to us.”

“Hopefully some Wiccan will want to have a huge Bacchanal and I can unload eighteen casks of wine for a killer price in garden seed and toilet paper.”

They all laughed. Jessica and Sanjana came out of the boy’s room. Jessica came over and gave Cooper a kiss. “He’s down for a nap.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you like that,” apologized Lyle. “I wouldn’t have come if I were sick.”

“I know,” soothed Jessica. “It was just a moment of panic on my part; you know how things are these days. More tea?”

Lyle said he would and Jessica brought the pot and filled all of their cups again. She also topped off the corn beer with more of the warmed alcohol.

“What’s with the maps?” she asked, as she and Sanjana sat down at the table. “Another trip?”

Looking uncomfortable, Cooper nodded. “Lyle knows of a place where there might be medical supplies.”

“Like bandages?”

“Like medication.”

“How is that possible?” asked Jessica. Cooper explained to her about the disaster containers and the shelf stable medications. She nodded. “So you’re going to ride your horse down there and drag one back?”

The edge in her voice made Cooper wince. David and Sanjana sat back as if they were watching a dramatic scene play out on a TV. Lyle was able to look busy by moving his tea mug over in favor of the corn beer.

“We plan on taking the gasifed truck and dragging a couple back,” said Cooper, trying to lighten the tone of the conversation.

“You going to plow the roads while you’re at it? Bring back a pizza?”

“We’ll have to get off the mountain,” admitted Cooper. “But once in the valley, the roads should be pretty clear; we can just cannonball there and be back in a couple of days.”

“And the MC?”

“That’s to the south.”

“Well, you’ve got it all figured out.”

“Jessica—.”

She held up her hand. “You and David and Leticia and I all agreed we were done risking our necks for everyone else.” She looked at Lyle. “No offense. But after that debacle with the salt; I’m not going to have him risk his neck.”

“I didn’t go on that run,” protested Cooper.

“No, but David did.”

“That got out of hand for reasons beyond what we could control,” said Cooper, knowing as soon as he said it, he had dug his hole much deeper rather than filling in the churning earth as was his exaptation.

“Exactly.” She leaned on the table in an effort to control her mounting anger. “Cooper; you have a family. You risk everything each time you head out on one of your adventures. What would I do if you were to get injured; just injured?”

“There’s plenty of help here,” murmured Cooper.

“They going to help raise our child?” She sighed. “They all have their own lives, Cooper. Leticia and David want a child and a place of their own, eventually. Sanjana is not going to live here forever. Boone and Emily and Josh by next year will be too busy with the horses to help out much more around here; you have to think about this household.”

“I am,” said Cooper. “That’s why I’m doing this. Do you know what a disaster kit full of medical supplies could mean for us? Our son not getting some common cold and having it turn into pneumonia; or cutting himself on a fence and having it get septic.” He grabbed her hand. “Giving you, Leticia, hell, Emily, and Sanjana, an easier birth. This is a good thing to risk for.”

There was silence around the table as the conversation played out. Jessica and Cooper were locked in a battle of wills, in which capitulation would set a standard that neither of them could back away from once set.

“Bien, Poderosa, usted va esta vez. Pero quiero que esto se detenga; no tomar decisiones sin mí. Nunca más.” The sudden switch to Spanish made Cooper wince as if he had been struck. Jessica knew Cooper’s ability to speak and translate the language was limited, but the term Poderosa—someone with influence or power—made him understand she was accepting his decision not because she thought he was correct, but because he believed it was for the good of the community.

“You want me to translate?” asked David. The question broke the tension. The gathered laughed nervously. Cooper shook his head.

“I got the gist of it; Okay, Jefa.” Cooper leaned over and kissed her. “Entiendo. No mas.”

Lyle looked from one to the other in confusion. “My mother made me learn French. No mas? So you’re not going?”

“He’s going,” said Jessica. She looked hard at Cooper. “Unless we can find someone else.”

“I’ll ask around,” promised Cooper.

They bent over the maps again. The lines on the maps did little to relay the conditions of the roads; or even if they were passable enough to get down off the mountain. David sat back from the map and waved a frustrated hand at the remnant of another time.

“This is all well and good,” mentioned David. “But the truck is under a foot of snow, and we don’t even know if the thing will run and be able to get on the road.”

“I guess that’s the first thing we should do,” agreed Cooper. “Let’s go dig out the truck.”

“And the animals need checked,” reminded Jessica. “You’ll need to toss hay and straw down from the loft as well; Leticia and Sanjana and I can run this place, but you can make it easier on us.”

“I can have Boone and Josh and Emily come up and check on you.”

“They’ve got their hands full with their own property,” dismissed Jessica. “When Leticia gets back from el Rancho, we ladies can come up with our own plan of action.”

“I wanted to go,” said Sanjana. “With them.”

There was a moment when Jessica seemed to consider arguing with the other woman, and then Jessica nodded. “You should, to make sure they’re not stupid.”

“Ouch,” breathed Lyle.

Giving him a side look, all Jessica said was, “You’ve never been anywhere with Cooper and David.”

Cooper slapped the table top in an effort to change the subject. “Okay, let’s check on that truck.”

Sanjana leaned on the table and gave Lyle an appraising look.

“Tu parle francais?” she asked, remembering his comment about Spanish and French.

“Oui,” responded Lyle. “Je ne suis pas parler en ce moment.”

“Vous avez appris cela a l’ecole?”

“Oui, et ma mère était canadienne-française,” responded Lyle with a smile.

“What are they saying?” asked David to Jessica and Cooper.

Cooper shook his head. “Fuck if I know. I can barely speak English, and you all want me to speak in Spanish and French?”

Sanjana laughed at their confusion and stood. “Nous parlerons ensemble plus.”

“Je vais profiter de cette,” returned Lyle, standing with her. He watched her for a moment as she moved out of the room to where her small bedroom was. Cooper knew the man had fallen under the weird spell which Sanjana seemed to be able to cast on those around her. After she was out of the room, Lyle shook himself as if he were coming out of a trance. He looked over at Cooper and Jessica and David. “Let’s look at that truck.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Oct 03, 2018 4:57 am

Cooper came on his cross country skis to the home of Not Tim, while Not Tim was out tending to the animals and performing basic maintenance on the house, his water supply, clearing drifts snow from doors, chopping wood for the next round of bitter cold, and cleaning out the little barn and tossing the results on the compost pile. Little Tim was chopping wood by the pile, Not Tim could hear the steady thunk and crack as the axe hit the wood and split or the hollow whack of the axe getting caught on a knot and his son letting out an adolescent curse while he struggled to free the axe. Not Tim thought about correcting his son, perhaps telling him that he shouldn’t speak so, but in truth, Not Tim was guilty of being the bad example. The sound of the axe stopped for a moment too long and Not Tim thought Little Tim was taking a break until he called out a greeting. Picking up his rifle, Not Tim moved to where he could see the driveway. He grinned at the sight of Cooper Kicking and Gliding up the drive. He still had a little more to do, and went back to the shed to finish his task. Soon, Little Tim and Cooper rounded the corner of the shed, Cooper carrying his skis and poles. Little Tim was telling to Cooper about how the Billy goat had managed to use the shelter as a jump off point to escape the enclosure. Cooper laughed at the right moment and the two stopped in the door of the building while Not Tim put the last pitchfork full of manure in the wheelbarrow.

“Mr. Cooper’s here, dad,” announced Little Tim.

“I see that,” said Not Tim, leaning pitchfork against the wheelbarrow. “Are you done with the splitting?”

Little Tim shrugged.

“So that’s a ‘No?’”

“Almost.”

“Where’s the axe?”

“In a chunk of wood.”

“Finish up your chores, don’t leave the axe in the snow, put it in the shed here after you clean it off and oil it.”

“I know,” sighed Little Tim, exasperated that his father thought he needed reminding.

“Well, go on, Mr. Cooper’s not here for you to tell him story’s about the goats,” said Not Tim lightly. As Little Tim turned to go, Not Tim spoke again. “Hey, and be careful of your language; you’re mom hears you talk, she’s gonna tan your hide.”

“Okay,” said Little Tim.

“Okay?”

“Okay, dad?”

“Good enough. Get gone.”

Little Tim bade Cooper goodbye and went back to his wood chopping. Cooper watched him go, grinning at Not Tim when he turned back.

“He’s getting big,” said Cooper, moving into the shed and leaning his skis against the wall along with his poles. “And apparently he’s starting to swear?”

“You know, he’s at that age where he has to try it out when he thinks we’re not listening.” Not Tim smiled. “It’s funny sometimes because he doesn’t quite have it down, and he’s not sure how to use cuss words yet to make an impact. But I don’t laugh even when I want to.”

Cooper walked beside Not Tim as he picked up the wheelbarrow and pushed it down the well-worn path through the snow to where the compost heap was steaming in the cold air. They made small talk about the weather, if there was going to be more snow on the way, while Not Tim emptied the barrow and wondered why Cooper was at the homestead doing work. Of course, mused Not Tim, Cooper had a half dozen people to help him with chores around the place. It wasn’t that Cooper never came over; he occasionally stopped by to shoot the shit or to check on Not Tim, but there were times when Cooper seemed too preoccupied to really be interested in Not Tim and his life. Not Tim finished forking the manure onto the compost and they walked everything back to the small barn. Not Tim cleaned off the pitchfork, cleaned up the wheel barrow as well as he could and invited Cooper back to the house.

They settled into the dining area and Pamela brought over two mugs of warm corn beer. The downstairs was warmed by a classy looking wood burning stove with a glass front set up in the living area, which had comfortable furniture, oversized chairs, a leather couch, expensive end tables and a rug that reminded Not Tim of the movie about the lazy Dude who kept getting beat up by surfers and Germans. Off the dining area was the kitchen with the stove he had converted over to burn wood because it was a huge, expensive, thick walled stove with an exhausted hood that was easily converted into a chimney. Not Tim could smell that she was baking something involving apples. He hoped it was apple crisp; they had traded for some rock hard brown sugar and softened it with a moist towel over a bowl set on the wood burning stove. Across the valley, where they grew wine grapes, the folks there had taken a portion of the grapes and let them dry. Not Tim had down some work for a couple folks for a week and they had paid him with raisins and oats and wine and some clothing for his growing son. Not Tim and Pamela had a wine barrel of raisins and another of oats from that venture. Pamela asked how Jessica was and the boy before going back into the kitchen to prepare their dinner.

“What brings you here?” asked Not Tim. “Not that it’s not a pleasure to see you but, it is the middle of the week; you usually make your rounds on Sundays.”

Cooper smiled and nodded over the rim of the cup. He set the mug down on the dining table, toying with the mug for a second before speaking. “Not Tim, would you be adverse to going down into the big valley, near Barkley for a scavenging run?”

Not Tim sat back in his seat and gave Cooper the once over. “With you?”

Cooper gave him an uncomfortable grin. “No, Jessica and I have decided that I’m not going this time.”

“With who, and why?”

“Sanjana and a guy from across the valley, Lyle; he’s got information on a stash of medical supplies in Barkley, I’m going to loan him the truck to haul it all.” Cooper launched into the details as he knew them, finishing with, “Me and David will come over here while you’re gone and keep up with your daily chores, if you go.”

“What’s my piece of all this?” asked Not Tim.

“Anything you can grab and fit in the truck after Lyle gets what he needs and Sanjana picks up our share. You can grab medical supplies, whatever is there for you to take. I just want to send someone with Sanjana that I trust and someone that can handle the truck and any problems that might arise with mechanicals stuff and otherwise.”

“The MC is over that way,” mentioned Not Tim.

“They’re a non-entity now,” said Cooper, “Mostly. And they are in the south of the valley. The north side, near Barkley is mostly clear, from the information we got.”

“That was a month ago,” pointed out Not Tim.

“I get your concerns,” said Cooper. “If you don’t want to go—.”

“It’s just that this whole idea of a magical stash of medical supplies seems far-fetched,” said Not Tim. He swirled the corn beer around in the mug. “It really isn’t that I don’t want to help out; but the risk is pretty big if there happens to be no return.”

“Lyle has agreed to thrown in a few barrels of wine if the whole thing is a bust,” mentioned Cooper.

Not Tim leaned back toward the kitchen. “Pamela.”

Pamela leaned out of the kitchen. “You need more to drink?”

“No, baby,” said Not Tim. “I want to ask you something.”

“I’ve got stuff on the stove.”

“I understand; it’ll just be a minute.”

“Hold on,” said Pamela. She disappeared and returned a second later. “What is it?”

Not Tim explained what Cooper wanted him to do, while the man himself sat uncomfortably by and listened. Pamela glanced down at Cooper for a second and then back at Not Tim.

“Tim,” She was the only person who still called him just Tim, to everyone else, he was Not Tim. “These people have done a lot for us, they are asking you to go out and help out. It’s a risk, but this life has been a risk since everything fell apart.” She waved a hand at the house. “We come up here and they gave us a house—a nicer house than we’ve ever had—they’ve given us work and a place in their community and never asked much more than for us to help when it was needed. They’re asking us to help now. There’s risks and there’s danger, and it’s our turn to accept that danger for everyone else.”

Not Tim smiled at her. He reached out and took her hand and kissed the buttery tasting fingers. “Okay.”

“Cooper, when all this is done and Tim gets back, you and Jessica and Sanjana and the rest need to come over for a night of dinner and games and bring your guitar,” Pamela told him.

“We’ll do that,” assured Cooper.

“When is Tim headed out?”

“Tomorrow morning,” said Cooper. “As early as we can get the truck ready.”

“Do I need to pack up food? For how many days?” asked Pamela. “And how many people?”

“Three people,” said Cooper. “We’re supplying food as well, but any help would be appreciated. We’re hoping that it’s only going to be three or four days; it will depend on weather and road conditions.”

Pamela smiled and she went back into the kitchen.

“I’ll be there in the morning,” said Not Tim. Cooper nodded and finished off the corn beer.

“I’ve got things to get ready,” said Cooper. “I need to get going.”

Not Tim stood with him and walked with him to the door. Cooper put on his boots and coat. “Thank you, Not Tim, this gets me out of a bind.”

“I take it Jessica wasn’t happy with you volunteering to go?”

“Not at all.”

“I’m glad to help you out, you know that,” said Not Tim. “You saved my life.”

“I just talked sense into the situation,” said Cooper, embarrassed by Not Tim’s words.

“You say what you want, but it was more than anyone else had ever done for us, ever.”

Cooper shrugged and they shook hands. Not Tim let him escape without further embarrassment. Not Tim turn back into the kitchen and found Pamela over a mixing bowl. He crept up behind her and put his arms around her. She started and took a deep breath, quickly wiping her eyes before returning to the contents of the bowl. Not Tim pulled her close.

“Honey, you alright?”

“I’m fine,” she said.”

“What’s with the tears?”

“I’m scared, Tim,” she said. “I know the rumors about that valley; I’ve heard about the things that have happened there. Those gangs and all the killers that live over there. I’m scared for you.”

“You could have said, no,” said Not Tim.

“You know I’d never say no to Cooper,” she told him. “That man saved your life. He saved our lives. We owe so much to him and everyone here on the mountain.” Pamela turned in Not Tim’s arms so she could look him in the face. “It’s time for us to take a risk, baby, we’ve been living off the efforts of everyone else when they leave this mountain. You be as careful as you can be; don’t do stupid things, and come back here with everything you can stuff into that truck.”

They both laughed at that. They kissed deeply.

“Go, get your rifle and your pistol, clean them up,” said Pamela. “I’m going to finish dinner and see what I can throw together for food.”

“You’re going to be okay with me gone?”

“I will be worried every second until you are back safe,” said Pamela. “But when you come back, you’ll have stories to tell and things to share.”

Not Tim kissed her again and went to do as he was told.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Oct 03, 2018 4:59 am

Not Tim always liked to get out and away from the cabin. Though he had a pretty specular view from windows of his reclaimed vacation home, he never really got a chance to enjoy the scenery for what it was. It was when he was out away from the daily grind of the work he had to do each day that Not Tim got to look around and see the beauty of the world. The tall peaks, the snowcapped granite out thrusts, the trees of all different colors and shapes, they all put him in the spirit of how things must have been to the first people to walk the paths and view the mountain lakes, see the waterfalls, and gaze across high desert valleys. When he gazed out across the landscape, in his mind, the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans played and he wished for something simpler.

Of course at the moment, none of the views around him mattered. They were busily digging the gasified truck out from under the bank of snow into which it had slid when the old tires had lost traction coming down the other side of the mountain. The kicker of the matter was they could see the break in the snow where the heat from the valley below warmed the air temperature and melted the snow pack. Where they currently were, the snow melt and cold nights had created ice on which the tires could find little purchase. How they were going to defeat the ice on the way back up the mountain was becoming a concern for Not Tim and the others. Not Tim just hoped that the truck would have a heavy enough load to allow the tread to dig through the packed surface and give them enough traction to climb back up the mountain. One never realized how much the world before depended on the highway services until they no longer existed.

When Cooper had come to him, Not Tim had been flattered that the man would ask him to take part in the adventure. Before this, Not Tim sometimes wondered if Cooper trusted him to do things on his own; Cooper had the tendency to make Not Tim feel like he was annoying Cooper. Not Tim understood the he could come across as being clingy, for lack of a better term on his part, but the simple fact that Cooper had been the one to save his life, made Not Tim feel beholding to the man. Since he had met Cooper—even with the end of the world as they knew it—Not Tim’s life had taken a one hundred and eighty degree turn for the better. He had steady work he enjoyed, people around him who cared and supported he and his family, and home he only dreamed about living in Before.

Before they set out, Not Tim had tried to get the nurse practioner, Paula, along for the trip, since she was the most well versed in knowledge of all things medicine—at least on the mountain—but she was elsewhere, tending to a difficult baby delivery. There had been a debate at the homestead on who was going to go; David and Leticia had volunteered, but Cooper felt they should stay, with the addition of Not Tim’s home to the chore list. Boone and Josh and Heidi were swamped with a sudden influx of horses they had wrangled a few weeks before. They had finally decided rather than prolong the trip and find extra people for the firepower that it would just be the three of them tackling the trip down the mountain to the mythical storage unit which held the fabled medical supplies.. He hoped there would be no problems, and if they encountered any, diplomacy would rule the day. If not, with his rifle, Sanjana’s SKS, and the weird looking Tavor Lyle carried, Not Tim hoped they would be able to handle any problem which might arise. If they could not do so, it wouldn’t really matter how many people they had on hand.

Tossing the shovel into the back of the truck, Not Tim leaned on the bed and sighed. “Let’s give it a try.”

Sanjana climbed into the cab and everyone stopped to watch. Sanjana closed her eyes briefly, as if she were saying a prayer, and hit the starter button—no keys to lose—feathering the throttle and playing with the cable choke. At first nothing happened as the battery turned the starter and the starter attempted to move the engine. Just when it seemed that the system might give up, there was a pop, and the engine thumped several times, gaining speed with each thump until it roared to life as the gasses from the wood chips became the fuel needed to fire the pistons. Everyone cheered and Not Tim smiled thankfully as Lyle topped off the gasifier and jumped from the back of the truck.

“Let it run for a minute,” Not Tim called to Sanjana. He turned to Lyle. “Half the battle’s over.”

“We still have to get it to the bottom of the mountain,” said Lyle. The man gazed down the glazed roadway which sparkled under the afternoon sun. Any other time, it would have been considered picture perfect. At the moment, it more closely resembled the paved highway to hell. “It might have been easier to ride a horse.”

“Those knobby tires and chains will dig out of anything,” assured Not Tim, wondering himself about how well the truck was going to do getting back up the mountain. “Besides; I hate horses. You want to give the truck a try?”

Lyle shook his head. “Sanjana seems quite capable.”

“I’ll do it,” sighed Not Tim. “She already said she doesn’t want the responsibility if it gets crashed. Alright, walk me a path to aim for.”

Nodding Lyle went over to the cab and had Sanjana exit, explaining that Not Tim wanted to crash it himself. She laughed and jumped down, standing aside with a slight bow to let Not Tim climb into the cab. As he began to climb in, he saw Lyle staring at the truck with undisguised awe mixed with what could only be described as sorrow.

“You okay?” asked Not Tim.

Lyle nodded. “I never thought I’d hear an engine again. Every time this thing fires up, it’s like magic.”

Not Tim smiled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Sanjana, climb in on the other side.”

He sat down and shut the door while Sanjana hurried around and took the passenger’s seat, throwing the lap blanket over her as she settled down in the seat after buckling herself in. Not Tim reached down and pulled the lever for four-wheel drive, feeling the clunk as it engaged.

“Ready?” asked Not Tim as he engaged the clutch. Sanjana nodded and Not Tim shoved the truck into gear and eased off the clutch, feeling the tires begin to bite at the ground beneath them.

The truck growled and lurched forward, coming off the solid ground onto the snow, the tires slipping to find purchase on the slippery surface. The front tires dug, the four wheel drive pulling at the steering as the truck moved through the snow, churning up the white particles, the clumped ice hitting the fenders and doors, sounding like gravel being kicked up on the underdeveloped roadway. Ahead of him, Lyle turned to gauge the progress of the truck, pausing in his effort to find the least drifted path along the road. When he saw the truck beginning to move steadily out of the ditch, Lyle picked up his pace and finally gave up as the truck roared by him, the relatively flat surface of this stretch of road making the task easier for the tires to find purchase and plow through the snow. As Not Tim drove, he could feel the chained tires easily finding grip with very little slippage as they moved. This made Not Tim happy; if they could keep a steady pace, the trip down and back might be a simple two or three days travel, depending on what they found once down the mountain.

The truck was picking up speed and the tires were grabbing at the pavement. In the side view mirror, Not Tim saw Lyle reach out and grab the top rail of the bed of the truck and use the bumper as a step to swing himself into the cargo area. This alleviated Not Tim of the problem of stopping and starting again to pick the man up. He glanced back and saw Lyle feed more fuel into the firebox of the gasified system. If they were lucky, they could keep a good head of steam going and not have to stop to dig the truck out again.

Not Tim kept the truck at a growl down the road. There were patches of clear roadway in which the tires grabbed at the surface of the pavement, making the truck surge for a moment while the old knobbies found purchase. Not Tim used those moments to straighten the truck in its progress down the mountain and aim for the next line he wanted to take through the snow and ice. Beside him, Sanjana played with the old radio in the Dodge, absently running up and down the dial, listening for something other than static. She switched from AM to FM frequencies, finally turning it off after a couple runs of nothing but blank air.

“I guess one can always hope?”

Sanjana nodded. “You never know, some tech nerd or old Hippie might have taken it upon themselves to figure out how to get a radio station working.”

“Or the government might be actually becoming useful again,” mused Not Tim.

“It could happen,” agreed Sanjana. “I think this entire event caught the world off guard. Maybe this was supposed to be our extinction event, and we were too resourceful to die off, or it’s simply not over yet.”

“That’s a dark look at everything.”

Sanjana laughed, a sound which always reminded Not Tim of happy, brass bells, meditation bells, he decided. “I come from a society that views all life in a pluralistic way; there is no one answer, but everything can be. So, you see it as dark, I see it—we see it—as just life.”

“But you are Muslim.”

“I am,” admitted Sanjana. “But I am Rajasthan, and we have been always the ones who fought for and protected India. For 500 years, Rajput kept India safe from invasion, that is until Rana Sanga lost to the Mughal Empire in a series of betrayals.”

Fascinated, Not Tim finally shook his head. “I have no clue what the hell you are talking about.”

“Because you have a Euro-centric knowledge of history,” said Sanjana.

Not Tim gave a chuckle. “Okay.”

“Who is invading?” asked Lyle from the back of the truck. The man had stuck his head through the missing rear window in preparation for climbing through to the crew cab.

“We are,” said Sanjana. “Liberating the storage units just as Operation Vijay liberated Goa.”

“Goa is a hell of a lot warmer than it is here right now,” mentioned Lyle.

Sanjana gave Lyle a curious look. “What do you know of Goa?”

“Other than it’s warmer than it is here?” asked Lyle playfully. He gave Sanjana a slight smile. “Only what I read in books.”

“What books would you have read that tell you about Goa?”

“I got a book on Rana Sanga in a pile of things I traded for a while back. It talked about him and his grandfather, Maharaja Sangram Singh, and their fight to keep India free,” Lyle said. “I know just enough to impress White people.”

Sanjana nodded briefly and appraised Lyle while he climbed into the rear seat of the truck. “I would say you have impressed me for the moment.”

Lyle grinned and situated himself on the bench seat. “Merci, mon chaton.”

Sanjana laughed. Lyle looked confused. “What?”

“You called me a kitten,” said Sanjana.

Lyle looked chagrined. “I meant to say Tiger.”

Sanjana smiled and turned back to look out at the road. “It’s okay, I don’t object to it.”

Not Tim looked up into the rearview mirror and saw Lyle lean back in the seat with a victorious smile on his face. Lyle was either going to end up being a lucky bastard or a disappointed soul, thought Not Tim. Glancing over at Sanjana, Not Tim thought Lyle might be lucky. She had a small smile of her own lighting her face. Not Tim knew this was going to be an awkward ride for him, the sparks in the air were nearly perceptible to the naked eye.



The road changed from ice covered to merely wet. On this side of the mountain, the sun was out in full force, and even though the temperature was probably only in the low forties, they were all shedding layers. They were at a pull off which overlooked the valley; and with the clear, crystal blue, sunny skies visibility seemed to be forever. Below them—still many miles away—the small city of Hartsville lay sprawling among the low hills to the south. They could just see a small haze here and there from what were probably cook fires. The MC might have collapsed, but there were residents in the town who were trying to hold on, attempting to make a living in the rapidly decaying city. Not Tim and those on the mountain were monitoring the events of the city since it was so close to them; only a mountainside away from their homes. There were times that the New Washington valley felt isolated, but all there was standing between them and the big valley was a couple of roads up the mountain and the will of people to travel it.

Beyond Hartsville, the valley gave way to farm land and orchards. The view was of scattered greenery, seemingly geometric fields, and strips of gray and black roadway disappearing into the horizon. To the north lay Barkley. They could not see that far even on such a clear day, and somewhere in that direction there was a river crossing to be made; hopefully the bridges still stood, and the small towns near the highway—if they took that—were friendly. They had an alternate route planned if needed, but all agreed that the most direct route most of the way, was the way to travel to the destination. The warehouses Lyle was speaking of were not in Barkley proper, but in a suburb nearby; they hoped the place was unexplored and unmolested. At this point in time, anything was possible, they knew. They hoped that the location meant few, if any, explorers had found the storage.

They had stopped to remove the snow chains from the tires of the truck. The pull off was one once used by big tractor trailer rigs to cool their brakes from coming down the mountainside. There was still a couple of the big rigs sitting in the lot, their trailers open to the weather, the cabs dusty and empty. Not Tim and Lyle spent some time pocking around in the trailers, finding nothing of use to them. There were water logged pillows in broken down cardboard boxes, Halloween decorations, which gave both men pause that those were in the trailer, and other just as useless items, rotting and decaying in the trailer. Sanjana had been poking around in the cabs and pulled out a can of Sprite which had been over looked. She held it up for them to see.

“Any takers?”

“Think it’s still good?” asked Lyle.

“It’s cold and undamaged,” she said. “It probably is?”

“Bring it along, it’s more than we found,” said Lyle, jumping from the back of the trailer. Not Tim was already walking toward the truck, ready to be on the road now that he had stretched out and relieved some of the tension in his shoulders from the icy ride down the mountain. He hoped to make the outskirts of Barkley by late afternoon.

The truck sat with the heat from the gasifier making the colder air shimmer as the gas generator kept the fuel fire hissing in preparation for the final run. As Not Tim climbed once again into the cab, Sanjana and Lyle were talking about the things they missed from before. He listened with half an ear, his eyes cast down the road, hoping that the melt would last as the air temperature began to fall with the setting winter sun. He wanted to get holed up before the sun fully set; they had a couple of tents to set up it they could not find other shelter, and who knew how cold it was going to get once the sun went down. Up on the mountain, the nights became bitter, and negative numbers were not uncommon. This side of the mountain Not Tim was unfamiliar with, but he believed that it was probably the same.

On the way down the mountain they had passed through a couple sleepy little villages, and had even stopped at one to stretch and converse with the people there in town. Not Tim knew that el Jefe traded with the two villages occasionally, and so while the sight of the gasified truck moving in the winter was a surprise, the villagers were not unaccustomed to the vehicles, at least in the summer. According to them, they had seen very little in the way of people and traffic from the big valley below; they reported when the MC broke up, the villages had seen increased movement as refugees escaped the power vacuum and even a few of the transient people had settled in the villages and along the small communities on the mountainside. With the coming of winter, however, there had been little traffic up and down the main road. One man said he and several others had been moving down into the valley to scavenge and reclaim, but had stopped late in the fall when they had a running gun battle with a group who they thought might be former MC members. One of the villagers had been shot, and later died from the complications of the lack of medical supplies and experience. They inquired the reason why the truck was headed to the big valley so late in the season, and Not Tim fell back on the cover story that they were going to search for a relative of Lyles, who had sent word he needed unspecified help. The cover held up for the most part, and the villagers had fed the three travelers hot barley soup and heavy ground meat pasties before they moved on. Not Tim made a note to talk to Cooper about increasing their trade over on this side of the mountain.

Sanjana and Lyle were still playing the “things I miss” game.

“Chai,” said Sanjana. “I miss chai.”

“Milky tea,” said Lyle, with a grin.

“No,” corrected Sanjana. “The English drink milky tea. We Indians drink Chai.”

Lyle laughed and said, “I miss fish sandwiches from McDonalds.”

“How gross,” said Sanjana.

“Are you saying you never ate at McDonalds?”

“No, I’m saying those squares of white fish are not good,” said Sanjana. “If you’re going to eat a fish sandwich, Arby’s is the place to go.”

“But they only served during Lent,” pointed out Lyle. “McDonalds was year around.”

“Which is one of the failings of the sandwich,” countered Sanjana. “It’s pedestrian, and lacks character.”

“Damn,” said Lyle, faking a stab to his heart and pretending to grab at the handle of the knife.

Sanjana looked at Not Tim and asked him his preference. Not Tom shrugged. “I liked Popeye’s.”

“Ahhh, a spicy sandwich,” nodded Lyle. “Bold choice. Step outside of the norm.”

“I was never a run of the mill fast food eater,” said Not Tim.

They took their places in the truck and Not Tim started the engine, playing with the choke until it was running smoothly. Lyle checked the fuel in the hopper and they were back on the road. The land around them was flattening out to rolling hills and fields, the trees becoming more sparse as the farmlands took over. The low sun was casting long shadows across the relatively clear roads and reflecting off the ice crystals on patches of snow. It had snowed less on this side of the mountain, and in places the ground shown through with dull brown grasses. There were still fields of crops that were standing dormant, the seeded heads hanging listlessly in the cold air. Not Tim wondered why no one had bothered to harvest the fields, and then dismissed the thought, decided either there was no way to harvest or the people who had originally planted the crops were not around any longer to care. The MC and consequent failure of the gang had probably sent many people scrambling for a better place to live.

The truck rumbled along, each of them trading fast food experiences from before, talking about regional specific places they had been; Taco Johns, White Castle, Krystal, Whataburger, and Skyline, were just a few which came up in conversation. Not Tim was surprised at the amount of travelling the three of them had done in the time Before. Sanjana was the most world travelled of the three; she described to them a fast food chain in India called Jumbo King, which specialized in vegetarian food; masala fires, veggie fingers, and a potato burger. She talked about Kochlöffel in Germany, which was burger place like those in the United States, but also had curry bratwurst and baked chicken. Lyle talked about Harvey’s in Canada and the poutine—fried cheese curds in brown gravy, served on French fries, which to Not Tim sounded more like an excuse to use up left over scraps—and Fast Eddies, the signature dish which was called Crazy Frys; French fries that apparently could be ordered with everything on them. Not Tim’s contribution to the conversation was more pedestrian; he was able to add the green chili cheese burgers and fried apple bites from Twisters, in New Mexico; a restaurant chain which provided inspiration for a TV show.

As the conversation lagged, each one fell into their own thoughts. Not Tim tried to keep track of the sign posts as they ate up the miles, passing houses which looked abandoned or businesses with blank windows and derelict vehicles. A sign for Buckley appeared, informing them that they were still 37 miles from the destination. Not Tim turned to Lyle.

“Where exactly is this place?”

Lyle roused himself and leaned up on the front seat. He was pulling at one of the maps and checking it against where they were on the road. “According to this, we need to take the turn for Franken Road. It’s up here somewhere. Once we’re on Franken, then we go for another 20 or so miles before we hit the next turn off.”

“Will we make it before night fall?”

Lyle gauged the sun, their speed, and the distance they had to travel. “Just, I think.”

Not Tim nodded. “Do we want to find a place to hole up before we hit this place in the dark?”

“What are you thinking?” asked Lyle.

“If we stop here, say when we get to Franken Road, we’ll have enough daylight to scope out a place to hole up and get settled before the sun sets. I mean, we’re gonna want a place that we can search without worrying about if anything’s hiding or sneaking up on us.”

“That’s sound,” said Lyle. He looked over at Sanjana. “What do you think?”

“I’m with Not Tim,” she said. “Hit this place in the morning and that way we’ve got time on our side to search and load.”

“What kind of place are we thinking?”

“A place we can hole up and get the truck out of sight,” said Not Tim. “Someplace comfortable, where we can maybe build a fire, if we’re lucky, there’s a wood pile to restock what we’ve burned to get here.”

“We’re not that low,” mentioned Lyle.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” opined Not Tim. “The roads been pretty clear up to this point, but once we get on the side roads, there’s no telling what we’ll run into.”

Not Tim estimated they had about an hour of sunlight left before they had to search out a place to stay. With the help of Sanjana and Lyle, he did not pass by Franken Road and turned off onto the broken pavement. He had to slow a bit to not shake and rattle themselves and the truck to death. The trees thickened somewhat beside the road, broken fences and derelict buildings greeted them as they travelled. The long shadows gave the road a slightly sinister look if one let the imagination run. Lyle voiced their thoughts.

“It looks like we’re headed down the road to a haunted house,” he muttered.

“Just make sure that when you talk to someone, their feet aren’t backward,” said Sanjana. Lyle and Not Tim gave her curious glances. “In India, ghosts, or Bhut, the feet are on backward. They can also change into the shape of animals at will.”

“So you have ghosts in India too,” said Not Tim.

“Ghosts are everywhere,” said Sanjana gravely.

“Tell us a story,” said Lyle. “A ghost story.”

“That’s what we need,” groaned Not Tim. Sanjana laughed and the sound of her chuckle was enough to brush away the darkness they had been feeling.

“Okay,” said Sanjana, preparing to tell her tale. She turned in the seat and made sure she had both Lyle and Not Tim’s attention. “There is a place in India, called Kuldhara, it is a village in Rajasthan, in the Jaisalmer district, near Pakistan. Kuldhara was a very rich place, founded in the 13th century, by Paliwal Brahmins, who were great traders and businessmen. Their caravans travelled the Silk Road and to Rome in the ancient days. They built great, golden buildings, intricately carved with frieze and bas-reliefs. They were so well built, the temple of Vishnu still stands today.” Sanjana paused to make sure Not Tim and Lyle were listening. When she was sure she had their attention, she continued. “Now, many centuries passed with the Brahmins growing wealthy and Kuldhara growing until the British brought it under their control. They put a man, Salim Singh, in control of the trade and he was an evil and impotent man who fell in love with a beautiful maiden of the Brahmins. The Brahmins refused to allow Salim Singh to marry the maiden, and so Singh began to levy horrible taxes on the Brahmins and their trade. The Brahmins refused to pay the taxes and to protect the girl all moved away in the dead of night, and in their leaving, the Brahmins put a curse on Kuldhara so that no one would ever live there again. Now, the golden buildings stand alone on the plains in Jaisalmer and you can hear the cries of the people in the buildings they were forced to leave behind and see their shadows—the Bhut—move from place to place. Because of the Bhut and the curse, no-one can stay in Kuldhara for very long, and those that try leave with their minds clouded so that they wander out on the dry plains of the Thar desert until they too, become Bhut.”

“That was amazing,” said Lyle.

Not Tim grinned uncomfortably at Sanjana. “Is that true? I mean, does that place really exist like that?”

Sanjana smiled with a light shrug. “I have been there. Like all good stories, parts of it are true; you just have to decide which parts.”
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Oct 03, 2018 5:00 am

The long shadows stretched across the road as the sun began to touch the horizon line, to the east, the mountains had become small bumps on the horizon in the pending darkness they looked like clouds gathering for a storm. The gasifier rolled into a small town, on the map it said the name of the place was Forest City. It was a what might have been a bedroom community of Barkley. From the roadside view, the place looked like less of a city and more of a small town. Not Tim slowed, not sure if there were people around or a type of governmental entity that might be interested in their presence. The buildings looked blank; here and there windows were cracked or completely broken out, and awnings dipped in front of doors. Branches of trees and leaves lay in the roadway and gutters, the sidewalks were heaved and broken, debris accumulated against the side of the buildings, a fire hazard that folks on New Washington would have cleaned up as soon as it collected. There was no smell of wood smoke lingering in the air, nothing to indicate anyone lived in the town. Not Tim noticed a look of confusion on Lyle’s face and asked him about it.

“Well, there was supposed to be people here,” said Lyle. “Not a lot of people, but a few. They had a police department, like three guys, and supposedly a trade store. That’s what I was told. I was told we could roll through though, that as long as we didn’t look like trouble, they’d leave us alone.”

“Maybe they’re not taking care of the places where no one goes?” suggested Sanjana.

“Maybe.”

Not Tim guided the truck around more branches and gauged the setting sun. “We need to find a place to hole up.”

Sanjana pointed to an official looking building. “That’s the city hall, let’s stop and see if anyone is there.”

Not Tim pulled the gasifier around the building and into a fenced in parking lot at the rear of the structure. There were police cars lined in a row, tires flat, dust and leaves covering the surfaces of the vehicles. Like the rest of the town, the lot had an abandoned look to it. There was a tree leaning against the building, the result of a storm or age, it was unknown, but the tree had been there long enough for the leaves to whither. There was a man door set to one side of two garage bay doors. They were all closed and had rubbish piled against the bottoms. No one had opened the doors in sometime. Not Tim pulled the truck into a three point turn so that the old Dodge was pointed back out the way they came. He shut the vehicle down and Lyle reached through the rear slider to turn the release valves so that the gasifier would no longer pump the gasses to the engine. They exited the vehicle, weapons out and ready, for what, they were unsure.

“Shall we check doors?” asked Not Tim.

“Can’t hurt.”

Enmasse they moved to the garage doors, rattling the barriers, feeling no give to the bays as they tried to pull the big doors up. They tested the man door with the same results. Slowly the three walked around the building, looking in windows and trying to find one that might be open or unlocked. The spaces beyond the windows looked tired, empty but for officer furniture, and added to the overall abandon feeling to the town. The sun was dipping below the horizon, the trees blocking most of the color of the sunset, and the skies were starting to go from blue to black, with hints of starlight glittering in the canvas. The air was getting colder, and their breath puffed out in the dusk air, carried away by a slight breeze. They reached the front door and Sanjana gave it a tug, not expecting it to open. It swung open with a sigh, catching them all off guard. Sanjana let go of the door and swung her SKS up as it clicked back in place.

They laughed, breaking the tension.

“Caught me off guard,” she breathed.

Lyle and Not Tim readied their weapons and Sanjana reached out for the door again. She pulled on the door swinging it open and stopping it from closing with her foot. The door opened into an antechamber and another set of doors which lead into a foyer. There was chair against one side of the small room for someone to sit while waiting, and a window to the right of the door in the antechamber. In the dim light, they could see racks of radio equipment, computers, and TV screens hanging on the wall.

“Dispatcher room,” said Lyle, stepping into the antechamber and trying the next door. It was locked.

“What now?”

“Let’s break in,” suggested Lyle.

“Why?”

“Police Department; there might be something useful in there,” said Lyle.

“How do you propose to do that?” asked Sanjana.

“Let’s break the window,” said Lyle.

Sanjana waved at the thick piece of security glass. “With what?”

Not Tim looked at the thick glass, gauging it and then the light they had left to them. “We’ve got an axe in the truck.”

“Isn’t this a waste of time?” asked Sanjana. “There’s no one here and we need to find a place to spend the night. It’s getting dark, it’s cold, and I’m hungry.”

Not Tim and Lyle looked at each other around Sanjana.

“I’ve always wanted to break into a Police station,” said Lyle.

“I’ll get the axe,” agreed Not Tim.

“Come on, guys,” protested Sanjana, but Not Tim was already out the door.

He came back with the axe and a pair of safety glasses that were in the tool kit. He also had their alcohol fueled lantern. He handed the axe to Lyle. “You get the first crack at the window.”

Lyle put on the safety glasses and took a grip on the axe. Sanjana and Not Tim stepped out to give him room to swing the axe. When they got outside he drew back and the axe hit the window with a loud boom which filled the air and echoed down the street. The window seemed to bounce under the impact and a series of spider webbing cracks appeared where the edge of the axe hit. Sanjana and Not Tim winced at the noise, flinching as the axe boomed against the safety glass again.

“If that doesn’t bring out the people, nothing will,” muttered Sanjana glancing up and down the darkening street.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here to hear it,” decided Not Tim, staring into the shadows himself.

As the gunshot like blows echoed through the deepening night, Not Tim gave Sanjana a sheepish glance. “Maybe you were right?”

She rolled her eyes, an expression which was almost lost in the shadow of her face. “I was supposed to keep you two from being stupid; I suppose I failed at that?”

“To be fair, there was only you against the two of us,” said Not Tim. “You had no chance.”

Sanjana’s replied was cut off by a triumphant exclamation from Lyle. Sanjana and Not Tim peered into the antechamber. There was shattered glass all over the floor and chunks of the security glass hung in jagged strips from the frame. Even in the growing darkness, Lyle glittered with the shards of glass and dust which had been thrown back at him from his wild swinging of the axe. He was chopping clear a hole in the window, making it big enough for one of them to crawl through. Lyle grinned at them, a bloody streak on his face from where a chunk of glass has flown back and cut his cheek.

“We’re in.”

“Not exactly,” pointed out Sanjana.

“Details,” laughed Lyle. “Who is going in first?”

“I’ll go through and open the door,” said Not Tim. He handed his rifle to Sanjana, and pulled over a chair that was in the antechamber. He used it to get himself level with the window.

“Don’t cut yourself,” said Sanjana. Not Tim assured her he would not and then eased himself through the opening, carefully stepping to avoid slipping on the glass which was scattered all over the surface of the counter. His jacket scraped against the frame, and Not Tim hoped it would not get cut up by the pieces still sticking from the frame. He cleared the window, and jumped from the counter feeling the crunch of glass and dust under his boots. Once clear, Not Tim freed the big Smith and Wesson .45 that Cooper had given to him months before since Not Tim did not own a pistol at that time. The 4506 felt reassuring as he took a moment to catch his breath and orient himself to where the doors lay. The room was still as he stood, and behind him, Not Tim could hear Sanjana scolding Lyle and telling him he needed to shake out his clothing before glass cut more than just his cheek.

Not Tim moved away from the dispatch room, and through the door to where a larger room opened up to a series of desks with blank computer screens on them and nick knacks cluttered the surface of the desks; coffee cups, pictures in frames, stuffed animals, and toy cars and super hero figurines were scattered across the place, making it look more like a kindergarten room than a police station. Not Tim wondered if this were normal, or if it were something that happened After. Light seeped in through the windows, casting shadows across the floor and the desks, making the place eerily alive as he moved and the shadows flickered and waved with his passing. Dust motes floated in the air, capturing and reflecting what little light seeped through the windows. He found the door leading to the foyer and it opened without protest. Not Tim stuck a chair in the door way to keep it from closing behind him and then opened the door leading to the antechamber. Sanjana and Lyle came in, bringing with them a cold gust of air. Not Tim had not realized how much warmer the interior was, even if by only a few degrees.

“Let’s give this place the once over,” said Lyle, handing Not Tim his rifle and moving into the office area. Sanjana shook her head at the man and she held up the lantern for Not Tim to light.

“We’ll be spending the night here,” she declared.

“It could be comfy,” said Lyle as he searched across the surfaces of the desks and pulled open drawers.

“Only if you set the place on fire,” countered Sanjana. “And found me food to eat.”

“Yeah, I’m getting hungry too,” agreed Lyle.

Not Tim managed to spark the lantern into a whooshing glow. The light it cast immediately pushed the shadows to the farthest corners of the room. With the light Lyle made a noise of discovery.

“Check this out,” said Lyle. They came over to where he was standing next to a desk. There was a big bound ledger on the desk and beside it an oil lamp with the font—the oil reservoir—more than half full. Also on the desk was a jar of pencils and a rough calendar with dates that stopped several months previous. “See if you can spark that wick, too.”

Not Tim took his steel and scraped sparks at the wick until several caught the cotton wick and it began to burn. He adjusted the wick and set the chimney back on the ring, adjusting until it burned evenly. Lyle was flipping through the pages of the ledger.

“It’s a patrol pass along log,” announced Lyle.

“How do you know?” asked Not Tim setting the lamp down on the table.

“I had a couple friends who were cops, back Before. I did a couple ride alongs with them; I picked up some lingo.” Lyle pointed to a page. “Look, there’s the date, the shift, and what happened on the shift.”

Sanjana and Not Tim leaned in to look.

“April fourteenth,” read Sanjana. “Patrolled Zone 4 and 5 on bike. Walked Zone 1. Two merchants on horseback stopped by Grosse Hardware. Mrs. O’Neil said her cow was sick. Randy Dowd was taken home, drunk. All Zones clear. Nothing further to report. Patrolman Clark.”

There were more entries similar to that one, some longer, most of them short and to the point. Lyle flipped through the pages, and they read more about the daily life as chronicled by the log book of the police department. Sanjana picked through them reading some, skipping others. Each entry was in a different handwriting, some of it was easier to read than others. A few in, they could see that there were four officers and the Chief of Police making entries in the log book. The entries became stranger as they neared the last of the writing.

“July first,” she said, leaning in to read the hand writing by the light of the lamp. “Officer Clark did not return from Zone 6 check. Officer Brown was sent to see if Clark could be found and make sure there was no trouble. Candice Murphy reported seeing Clark on the department bike several hours ago headed toward Birch Street. No contact with Clark since.” Sanjana looked up at Lyle and Not Tim, her expression both curious and concerned. “Officer Brown reported hearing shouting on what he thought was on Plymouth near the old Copper Electric Factory. On checking Officer Brown reported nothing was found. Mrs. O’Neil reported her cow missing. Gandry Jones reported someone had trampled his garden. No suspects. Both reported not seeing anyone near their property. Search for Officer Clark continued until dark. Chief William Dixon.”

“That’s weird,” said Not Tim, suppressing a shiver that might not have been from the growing cold in the room.

“Maybe he got jumped by MC?” wondered Sanjana. “Wasn’t that around the time the other gang started moving in?”

They flipped pages. Lyle, waved his hand at the ledger. “Let’s bring it along, we need to search this place and find somewhere to get a fire going.”

Sanjana picked up the lamp and the ledger. “If we’re going to search this place, we need something to put what we find in, Not Tim, can you get a couple of those cloth grocery bags that are in the back of the truck?”

Not Tim sighed and nodded. He really did not want to go out into the cold, alone, in the dark, after what they had just read in the log book. While he was there, he could make sure the truck was locked down. Not Tim waved off the lamp that was offered to him. Outside, the dim light would be little good against growing darkness and probably make the deserted town seem even more eerie than it already was to his active imagination. He gathered up his nerve as he stepped back through the desk littered office area, and pushed his way back outside.

The cold air was akin to a physical slap across his face and sent a shock down his chest into Not Tim’s stomach. The temperature stopped him for a moment while he caught his breath; it felt as if the town were fifteen or twenty degrees colder than it ever got on the Mountain. Not Tim wondered if he was imagining this, or there was a logical explanation for the phenomenon? His boots clomped loudly in the freezing air, echoing off the side of the building, the echo bouncing across the street making it sound as if there were someone matching him step for step. The sound made Not Tim search the buildings and the trees, checking to be sure there was really no one out there. Above him, the clear sky sparkled with bright stars and the trees moved slowly in the icy wind. Somewhere in town a loud BANG echoed through the streets, making Not Tim jump mid-step. He caught himself as he stumbled, the noise of his misstep adding to the night sounds. Not Tim could have sworn that he heard the footsteps he thought were his own continue.

Pausing to catch his breath, Not Tim listened to the darkness. The bang could have been anything, an errant door slamming shut in the wind, a barely balanced board finally taking its tumble to the ground, a tree limb falling on an abandon car; there were so many possibilities. He strained to listen for more noises. The creaking of the tree limbs, the wind across the surface of the street, rattling leaves against the curb, all sounded louder than they should have, all made Not Tim’s eyes dart to each point in the darkness, seeking for the source. His mind began to imagine that each little rustle, each scrape was the result of someone or something trying to be stealthy, quietly moving through the darkness to ambush Not Tim as he stood waiting.

Shaking the thoughts away, Not Tim, let himself laugh. The sound bounced for a moment in the bitter air, falling away with the next gust of wind. He shook himself, standing straight. There was nothing out there. The town was empty. Deserted for months, the people disappeared to who knew where for their own reasons. When they were done with the police department, a move that Not Tim now regretted—they should have listened to Sanjana—they would find a place to get out of the cold and wind and eat warm food. Not Tim had a 0 degree sleeping bag that would warm his cold feet and he would burrow under the hood until daylight. Then they could go to the storage place and see if the medical supplies were still there.

He rounded the corner of the city building. The truck was in front of him and the driver’s door was open. For a moment, Not Tim thought he saw a shadow flit away through the fence and disappear into the darkness. Not Tim was caught off guard by the movement; for a moment he was not sure if he had seen anything, or if it was imagined. He raised up his rifle, almost shouldering it, searching the darkness for more movement. He thought he heard a skittering in the leaves, but the wind was also blowing, he tried to justify what he thought he saw with what he might not have seen. Not Tim’s eyes went back to the truck.

Had they not closed the door fully?

He wanted to shout out to see if there was an answer, or perhaps someone running away. Instead, he moved carefully up to the truck, the rifle ready, searching the vehicle for anything else out of place. Not Tim walked around the truck, peering into the bed, through the window glass into the cab, and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Using the rifle as a pointer, Not Tim walked along the fence line, checking the chain link for gaps in case he really had seen someone slip through the fencing and into the darkness.

There were no gaps.

Not Tim dropped his rifle down. He was seeing things and freaking himself out; they had simply left the door open. Not Tim turned away and began to walk to the truck. Behind him, there was a rustle of leaves and a heavy thump.

Not Tim let out a heavy curse and spun around, bringing his rifle up to bear and scanning beyond the fence line, his finger on the trigger as he tried to distinguish the shapes in the dark, his mind giving them form. Something might have moved. Not Tim brought the rifle up and aimed pressing on the trigger and letting off the last minute as the figure came in focus. The utility post shimmered as the tree branches above it blocked and exposed the star light above. A branch fell, he thought. It was a branch.

Not Tim hurried to the truck and after a quick search to assure himself that nothing was missing from the truck, he grabbed the bags Sanjana wanted. Slamming the truck door shut and giving it a tug to reassure himself that it was indeed closed and secured, Not Tim hurried around the building to the front door, eager to be rid of the strange place and back where there were other people to chase away the sense of isolation. Stepping back around the corner of the building, the wind caught his clothing and took his breath away, he felt the cold seep deeper into his lungs.

When he stepped through the door, Sanjana and Lyle were standing in the foyer, their eyes unsettled while they seemed to be listening and searching the darkness beyond the light of the lamps. They started when Not Tim opened the door.

For a moment, he thought they might shoot him.

“You okay?” he asked, as if he had not been doing the exact same thing just moments before.

Lyle and Sanjana each gave a nervous laugh.



“We thought we heard someone walking around,” said Sanjana. “We called out, thinking it was you. No one answered so we came out to check—.”

“I was outside,” assured Not Tim. He waved toward the Police Department. “You find anything?”

Seeming to shake off the alarm, Lyle nodded. “Yeah, we found a few things. I got a new shotgun, we found some ammo and a couple old pistols, and some canned food. Come on back and we can load up and get out of here.”

“The truck’s cold, so we’ll have to fire up the gasifier again,” warned Not Tim.

“You want to run out and do that while we load up?” asked Lyle.

Not Tim stared hard at the other man. “No.”

Lyle and Sanjana read everything they needed to in his single, short answer.

“It’s probably good we don’t split up,” said Sanjana.

The three of them made their way back into the Police Department.





Sanjana and Lyle lead Not Tim to the rear of the building, past a set of holding cells where there was a dark set of stairs. Sanjana gave a brief tour as they went down the stairs. “There’s a locker room, a break room, the garage, and an evidence room and storage. Those doors are locked, but the break room and the locker room were open. The garage has a couple of Police bicycles in it. We figured we grab those too.”

As they descended down the stairs Not Tim could not shake the feeling he was walking down into catacombs; the blank, yellow tinted walls, the narrow seeming stairs, and the cold all conspired to lay the heavy weight of the basement level on his psyche. It didn’t help that the lamp light flickered and danced across the surfaces to make the shadows jump as if the walls were alive. They walked through the garage, cluttered with old hose, shovels, axes, boxes, and the aforementioned bicycles, and into a hallway. Off the hallway there were several doors. Sanjana motioned to them and pointed out each one, naming them in order. They went into the break room first, and the room was warmly lit by the lamps. Not Tim felt like he were stepping back in time; there was still a microwave on the counter, a coffee machine beside it, and the refrigerator stood covered with pictures and coupons and magnets advertising various take out foods. The center of the room was dominated by an industrial looking table, and on the surface of the table were the items they had mentioned upstairs.

There were two shotguns on the table both the familiar Remington Police Magnums; wood stocked and adorned with only a side saddle for extra rounds. Three handguns lay there as well, from a short barreled, heavy frame revolver, to two nearly identical pistols like Not Tim’s .45. There was a pile of Before canned goods and boxes of ammo and pistol magazines, probably for the two pistols. Lyle picked up the fancier looking shotgun.

“We found all these in the lockers,” he said. He looked at Not Tim. “You care if I take this one?”

Not Tim picked up the other. “What about Sanjana?”

“I don’t want one of those things,” she told him.

“I don’t care,” said Not Tim. He liked the looks and feel of the old Remington. Lyle slid a couple boxes of shells to him. Not Tim picked one up and saw that they were marked as LEO 00 Buckshot. The boxes each held 25 shells. He put them aside with the shotgun and looked at the canned goods. “Where’d this all come from?”

Sanjana was starting to place the cans in one of the bags. “It was all in the cupboards, here. Why they never used it, I have no idea. Maybe they just never thought about it once the lights went out? But the cans are all dated right Before, so they’re still within expiration. Most of them are silly things, like canned ravioli or soups, but they eat the same.”

Not Tim picked up a pistol. He fiddled with it and held the thing up to the lamp light to see what the slide markings were. It was A Smith and Wesson, much like his 4506, but in 9mm. The magazine was full of defensive rounds. Not Tim checked the chamber and found it also loaded. He knew that the lever on the slide would make the weapon safe once it was in the down position.

“Sanjana is taking one of those,” said Lyle. “If you want one, I’ll take the .357.”

“.357?”

“The revolver.”

“We need to get going,” decided Not Tim, setting the pistol he held next to the shotgun. Lyle put several boxes of ammo and a couple magazines with the pile of stuff Not Tim had next to him.

Sanjana nodded to the door as she picked up the grocery bag she had filled. “Yes, let’s see if we can get a door open and toss those bikes in the truck as well.”

There was a thump that sounded through the building, the impact made them all wince and duck slightly.

“What the fuck?” asked Lyle.

“That was big,” said Not Tim. He was suddenly glad for the extra firearms. Picking up the 9mm, Not Tim shoved it in the pocket of his coat and hefted the rifle. “Should we check it out?”

“That’s what White People in movies do,” said Lyle. “I say we yank one of those garage doors open and get the hell out of here.”

There was no need to take a consensus on the idea, the three of them gathered up everything they could carry and hauled it out to the garage area. As they stepped through the door, in the light of the lamp, something seemed to dart through the doorway toward the stairs. Not Tim was in the lead and stopped when he saw it. Behind him, Sanjana nearly ran into him exclaiming, “What the hell was that?”

Not Tim peered around the door frame to see if there was any other movement by the light of the lamp. “I donno.”

Lyle asked what was going on, his voice taking on a different tenor as the three of them stood in the cold and watched the flickering lamp light create shadows in the depths of the two bay garage.

“Something was in the garage,” said Sanjana. “It went through the door.”

“What?”

Not Tim slowly moved into the big space. His arms were full, there was no way he could even use a firearm without dropping everything else. Regardless, he shuffled into the space, wary and casting glances into the dark corners for shadows that might dart and move and skitter through doors or fences.

“What do you mean, ‘Went through the door?’”

Sanjana did not answer him as she followed Not Tim into the garage. “Is it colder in here?”

“It is a garage,” whispered Not Tim.

They made their way to the doors. Not Tim set everything down and picked up the shotgun. He puzzled it out for a moment; it had been a while since he had last used a shotgun. Grabbing a box of the buckshot, Not Tim began to load the weapon while looking at the door. Sanjana put down the things she carried and began to try to open the garage door. She tugged at the rope attached to the panel and the snapped, sending her stumbling back.

Lyle came up behind them and set his things down just in time to keep Sanjana from falling down. “What’s going on?”

Not Tim nodded at the man door across the garage. “Something went through there.”

Looking at the door with a confused expression, Lyle said, “What kind of something? I didn’t see anything or hear the door—.”

“The door was closed, dude,” said Not Tim. “It went through a closed door.”

He glanced down at Sanjana, who he still supported in his arms. She nodded. “Maybe you didn’t see the door close?”

“Let’s get one of these doors open,” said Sanjana instead of arguing with Lyle. He nodded and took a lamp and used the flame to investigate the door. He made sure the door was unlocked, and then tugged on the emergency release handle so the power opener was not engaged. He then bend and worked to force the door up. There was a rattle as the panels moved from being forced, but the door itself did not move.

“It’s stuck on something,” he muttered. He picked up the lamp and moved to the other door. A gust of wind rattled the door panels and made them jump.

Not Tim finished loading the shotgun, racked the slide and topped off the magazine tube. He figured in the dim light, in the close quarters of the building, the shotgun might be a better choice for defense. He’d heard somewhere that the weapon was better for that kind of thing. Lyle glanced over at the sound of the shotgun being loaded.

“I’ll watch your back,” said Not Tim, while he put shells in the side saddle.

“Aren’t we just getting a little freaked out here?”

“You’re not?” asked Not Tim.

Lyle made sure Sanjana was settled on her feet. “There’s got to be an explanation; something logical.”

“Why don’t we debate this in the truck?” said Sanjana, her breath misting in the cold interior of the garage.

Both men agreed. They began to test both doors; yanking and pulling at the locks and pushing up and down on the door panels, hoping that something would budge. There was a loud metallic snap, as if a gear gave way or metal suddenly sheered, and the door Lyle was straining to lift popped open. The cold wind blew under the door, scattering leaves across the garage floor. Not Tim rushed over and helped Lyle push the door fully open as Sanjana gathered up the grocery bags and bolted for the truck. Not Tim and Lyle grabbed their own things and hurriedly dumped them in the truck. Not Tim and Lyle both turned to go back in and make a try for the bikes, but there was a gust of wind that blew hard against their faces, making both of them turn away for a moment. In the moment they ducked their heads, the garage door slammed shut, the sound of the door rattling down and slamming on the pavement echoed across the parking lot and through the trees. It carried off through the deserted town, and seemed to be mirrored by other crashes they could not identify. Sanjana was there beside them as they started for the door.

“No,” she told them. “Leave it.”

Not Tim and Lyle, looked down at her and then back at the building. The blank windows reflected the star light, and as they stared it appeared as if the shadows were flickering behind the glass, moving and looking back at them to be sure the three moved on.

“Stoke the fire,” agreed Not Tim. “I think at least one of the headlights works. We’ll try to find this warehouse in the dark.”

“I don’t want to get lost—,” said Lyle, his eyes darting back up to the building that loomed over them, seeming to lie in wait, as if it were listening and anticipating their decision. He nodded then and jumped in the rear of the truck to coax the fire back up so that the gasification process would start and they could move on. Not Tim exchanged the shotgun for his rifle, pacing while Lyle fed the split sections in to the hopper.

Sanjana was on the other side of the truck, her SKS ready at hand, peering into the darkness. On the hood of the truck the two lamps burned, casting their meager light out over the broken parking lot. The wind threatened to extinguish them, and finally Not Tim motioned to them.

“Let’s just put them out and pack them up,” he said. “They don’t help much.”

“It’s comforting,” said Sanjana, but she blew out the one on her side anyway.

Not Tim got the milk crate they stored the lamp in and added his and hers to the crate, wrapping them in old t-shirts to protect the glass. He turned in time to see a flicker of dark move around the corner of the building away from them. It might have been nothing. It might have been his movement that caused his eye to see the shadow move. It might have been a Hell Hound. He raised the rifle up at the nothing which was left behind, cursing. “Lyle?”

“It’s almost up,” responded Lyle.

“It might be close enough,” said Not Tim.

“Cooper said let it get a full head of steam, otherwise it won’t flow right.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Not Tim. “Sanjana, get in the truck.”

Sanjana nodded, ducking into the passenger’s seat and slamming the door. Not Tim tossed his rifle to her, and climbed in behind the throw, checking the gauges on his end. The pressure gauge was nearly where he needed it to be. His breath was misting out around his head, and the fog of moisture crystalized against the windshield. Desperately, Not Tim wiped at the frost with a piece of rag. The rag only smeared the ice around on the windshield. Sanjana reached over with the spatula they were using as an ice scraper and peeled the frost away.

Not Tim saw the gauge hit the pressure mark he wanted, he opened the valves and hit the starter, listening as the old motor cranked in the cold, it’s sluggish turning making heavy thumping noises in the night air. Suddenly, the gasification ignited, the motor gave a hard cough and roared to life. Lyle, slapped the roof of the cab and Not Tim put the old Dodge in gear, popping the clutch and jerking the truck to movement and out of the parking area. In the side view mirror he swore he saw a figure looking at them leave and turned to be sure that it was not Lyle, fallen out of the truck with the heavy jolt of movement. His glance showed there was nothing in the lot.

Not Tim didn’t look in the mirror again.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Oct 03, 2018 5:03 am

They had slept in the truck, a cold, uncomfortable, broken sleep punctuated by starting awake whenever a noise sounded in the distance or the wind changed pitch. Before collapsing into their fitful sleeps, they had eaten some of the canned food from the police station, warmed over the gasifier generator. When daylight came they tumbled out of the cab of the truck, stiff, sore, cold, and wondering if their experiences from the night before had been a result of their collective imagination, or if they had been plunged into a surreal alternate world of ghosts and bogymen. Before them the warehouse stretched dark and after the experiences of the night before, foreboding even in the light of the winter sun. None of them were eager to be thrust into the depths of another murky, empty building. The warehouse itself was a huge industrial building of blank grey walls with high windows set near the roof line. There was rolling garage doors set near one end, with semi-truck docking and a man door. The very front of the building looked like a normal office space; tall windows stretched from one side to the other, a glassed entryway which at one time, in another life, was meant to look inviting, reflected the morning sun out at them, partially obscuring the view of the interior. Tall grasses, brown under the pale yellow of the sunlight, sprouted in the green spaces where once manicured bushes and trees now spread haphazardly over sidewalks and parking spaces. Across the roofline the lettering Coal Industrial Storage boldly proclaimed the purpose of the dull exterior. The place did not appear to have been entered since Before.

Not Tim and Sanjana stood with Lyle in the lee of the truck, looking over the hand drawn map which had been sketched out by the former employee. They were trying to match the rough sketch of the interior with what they could see on the outside of the building. Unfortunately, the diagram and the building were not anything that resembled to scale. Lyle was pointing to the docking bay doors and then to the sketch.

“See, here’s the doors, and the storage unit is two rows over,” said Lyle. “He said it’s in a secure area, which means—from what he said—we have to pop a locked door and then we’ll be golden.”

“Locked how?” asked Not Tim.

“A door lock?”

“Pry bar, hammer, and what else?” decided Not Tim.

“The lantern,” said Sanjana.

“Lunch,” joked Lyle.

“The way this is going, that’s not even funny,” said Sanjana.

“It is a little.”

“Maybe a little,” she agreed, giving him a smile.

After gathering up the gear they might need, and some food and water in case, Not Tim shouldered the new shotgun, picked up the bag of tools, and they moved over to the man door. Lyle reached out to check it and the door swung open when he pulled on the handle.

“Let’s hope all the doors aren’t like this,” said Sanjana. Lyle gave her a side look. “If the door protecting the medical supplies is forced, we might have slept in the cold for nothing.”

Not Tim and Lyle nodded in agreement. Using his sparker, Not Tim lit the lantern and with the shotgun pointing the way, they stepped into the warehouse.

The lantern was a bit superfluous with the light seeping in through the window lining the upper wall. Not Tim let the lantern fall to his side and motioned to the rows of storage units. The rolling doors had all been opened, the contents of each one pulled out and scattered all over the aisle. Clothing and boxes and shoes and wrapping paper and books and pictures and tools and so much detritus of everyday life, Not Tim was not sure if they would even be able to walk through it all to get to where they needed to go.

Behind him, he heard Sanjana and Lyle exhale as if they had been collective hit in the stomach. Not Tim turned and looked at the two of them, his heart sinking to match the expressions on their faces.

“What do you want to do?” he asked them.

“We’re here,” said Sanjana, kicking at a pile of clothing in her path. “Might as well keep going.”

They threaded their way through the clutter of peoples pasts, remarking occasionally on the things they saw. The journey down the aisle was a glimpse of the past and into people’s lives. As they walked, Not Tim could not help but wonder where the owners of the items might be? Were they dead, had they simply walked away from the memories when the rest of the world stopped caring to find a place where they could survive? Photographs of places and people made Not Tim curious as to what those places and people might be like now? He saw snapshots of city streets filled with people, vistas shots of trees and canyons and clear skies, camping, and fires sparkling in a time when the flames were for ambiance and atmosphere and not survival. Nick knacks lay broken and forgotten, reminders of a time when people could travel beyond their plot of land as simply as hopping in a vehicle or buying a plane ticket.

Pushing all that out of his head, Not Tim stopped when they reached a blank wall at the end of the row of storage units. He turned towards the interior of the building and looked along the wall, seeing more items strewn about, more crap to wade through. There looked to be an indentation in the wall further down which might be a door. Moving into the depth of the building, the light from the windows became dim and gray. The lantern he held did not do much to dispel the murkiness. They finally made the door and found that it, too, was forced. Clutter was keeping the door wedged open. They could see someone had worked very hard to force the door; dents from hammers and scratches and gouges were all on the surface of the heavy barrier, the door jamb showed where pry bars had been used for leverage.

Not Tim had to put his shoulder the door to get it to move. The heavy steel slab gave a screech as something was dragged across the floor, caught under the sweep. Not Tim managed to open it enough for them to get through. He pushed the barrel of the shotgun through first, following it with the lantern, before stepping through himself. He glanced down as he stepped and saw that there was a crowbar caught under the door sweep, and that was what had been keeping it from opening all the way.

Once inside the secured area, Not Tim found more of the storage lockers. Some had been forced open, others had not. The pillaging was less rampant here and seemed to be concentrated on the foremost of the lockers. He moved enough for Sanjana and Lyle to step into the space as well. The three of them spent a long moment looking around at the lockers and the space and wrinkling their noses at the musty smells and the dust which rose around them in a haze.

“What’s the locker number?” asked Not Tim.

Lyle had to consult his map. “254.”

Not Tim stepped to the first locker to his right and held the lantern up to illuminate the number above the rolling door. “240; It’s probably to our left.”

They kicked their way through the mess at the door and stepped around the corner. The three of them stopped.

In front of them, there were several bodies lying in various poses. The decayed bodies lay spread down the aisle, arms outstretch, and legs sprawled, or huddled against the storage units, arms overhead as if they were trying to stop or hide from whatever had befallen them. They had been there long enough that the decay had left only withered skin and bones locked in stained clothing. Breathing shallowly, Not Tim bent down to look at one of the corpses. He could see tears in the clothing, spots that might have been made from bullets. He was no expert; his experience with shooting people was limited and mostly in the form of self-defense. He stood again.

“Let’s see if that locker is secure.”

“What happened to them?” asked Sanjana.

“Looks like the got shot,” said Not Tim.

“Why?” she asked, knowing there was no answer even as she said the words.

Not Tim shrugged and held the lantern high, stepping around the bodies to look at the numbers of the storage units. He counted them out as he walked, noticing that the bodies became more frequent as he walked, until suddenly, there were not more. The locks on the storage units had been cut with bolt cutters, but the door did not appear to have been opened. The story he made up in his mind was that the bodies—or at least some of them—had been looting the warehouse, they had been happened upon by another group who had been intending to do the same, or they were the caretakers of the warehouse. There had been a confrontation, then words exchanged, maybe a shoving matching, and fists thrown, suddenly, shots had rung out; bullets had pierced the bodies, people began to run as more rounds ripped through metal and into storage units—he could see evidence of bullets puncturing the rolling doors—then there was no one left to shoot, or it had simply stopped and everyone ran, leaving behind the fallen to decay where they had dropped.

“254?”

“That’s the one,” said Lyle.

Not Tim put down the lantern and checked the lock. It had been cut, but not removed from the door. He pulled the off and let it clatter to the floor. There were bullet holes in the door here as well. Not Tim did not wait for Sanjana and Lyle, he rolled the door open.

Inside there were a couple rows of shelving. On the shelving, were what looked to be Pelican boxes. Not Tim stepped into the space and shown the light on the cases. Each one was the size of a suit case, and seemed to be color coded; there were black cases, and green cases, and yellow cases, and orange cases, and red cases, and blue cases. On the handle was a plastic tag to show the case had not yet been opened, and on the tag was a date. Most of the tags were dates that were just a couple years Before. He saw the boxes also had plastic envelops on them, the kind that came with packing lists shoved inside. The lists were probably the contents of the box. Not Tim had to wonder if each box was for a specific purpose, or if each one was simply a general Aid kit. Sanjana and Lyle stepped in and they wandered the tight aisle as well, running hands over the cases.

“How do we do this?” asked Not Tim.

“We grab a couple cases of each color,” decided Sanjana.

“Carry them two at a time?”

Lyle spoke up. “I saw a hand truck out there, let me get it.”

He disappeared back outside and Sanjana and Not Tim investigated more. Since Not Tim had found bullet holes in the door, they pulled the boxes, checking them for damage. The ones with bullet holes, quite a few of them, they set to one side, creating a colorful rainbow of stacked cases. Undamaged boxes were set outside the door for Lyle to load on the hand truck. He came from the opposite side where they had entered, pushing the cart ahead of him.

“I had to go the long way to get around those,” he told them, waving at the bodies. “Do we want to check them for anything?”

“Like?”

“Guns, ammo?”

“Do you?”

Lyle looked at the husks which were once people. He instead picked up the boxes Not Tim and Sanjana had set outside the door and began to stack them on the platform of the cart. Not Tim and Sanjana helped, piling the boxes so that they had two of each on the hand truck, then stacked extras on top of those until Lyle pointed out they had a precarious load already. Sanjana found a roll of packing tape on a shelf and even though the adhesive was gone when they pulled it out, they were able to use it like plastic twine and tie the boxes more securely to the hand truck. They tossed their long guns on top of the hand truck and Sanjana and Not Tim each picked up two more of the suit cases at random.

“How are we going to get these past all that crap?” asked Not Tim.

“I noticed an emergency exit at this other end,” said Lyle. “We can take them out that way and pull the truck down.”

With a nod, they followed Lyle to the emergency exit. He propped open the door with a Pelican case so they could unload the cases on the small stoop. They propped the long guns against the safety rail and when they realized they could not unload all the cases on the stoop, the plan became for them to form a bucket line to stack them on the ground. Not Tim stood at the bottom of the landing and Sanjana handed him the cases while Lyle passed them from the hand truck. He picked up the last one propping open the door and as he handed it to Sanjana, he lost his balance and had to catch himself on the rail. When he did so, his foot came away from the door, which slammed shut. Cursing, Lyle tried to open the door to no avail. He cursed and kicked at it.

“Now we have to go all the way around again.”

“Do we?” asked Sanjana.

The three of them stood for a moment pondering the question.

“I’m ready to leave,” decided Not Tim. “I’m cold, I’m tired. It’s a long way back and there’s no telling how much trouble we’re going to have getting back up the mountain.”

“There’s a bunch more cases,” said Lyle halfheartedly.

“You can go around through all that depressing shit again,” Sanjana said to him. “Honestly, after last night, and all the Bhut we had to deal with, I’m not willing to step into another place where the spirits dwell so heavily.”

“You think all that was ghosts?” asked Lyle, his voice trying to be joking, but his face concerned as if he was not sure how else to explain their miserable night.

Sanjana shrugged.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I can only carry so much on a horse.”

“There’s only so much space in the bed of the truck,” added Not Tim.

“If we want, we can come back—.”

“Someone can.”

Not Tim stepped away from the stoop. “I’ll bring the truck down.”

When he came back, Lyle and Sanjana were sitting side by side on the stoop. Close enough to be touching, intimately leaning towards each other. He smiled at the sight. There had been an electricity in the air in the moments when they were trying not to be scared out of their minds. Now the decision was made to leave the dead place behind, they were reconnecting. Not Tim liked Lyle; it was too bad he lived so far away from them.

They loaded the truck and strapped the cases under a tarp. Soon the old Dodge was back on the road to the Mountain, letting whatever inhabited the abandoned town, the warehouse and the valley have it back.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Post by doc66 » Wed Oct 03, 2018 5:04 am

Sanjana reined in the horse. It was blowing hard, having made a difficult climb up the snow covered lane to Lyle’s house. She patted the animal as it shook its head, the bells on the bridle jangling and chiming in the crisp air. It let out a huge fart, as if it wanted her to be sure the animal did not appreciate having to work so hard. Behind the horse, the pack mules made protesting noises of their own. Laughing, Sanjana bent over the saddle horn to look at the place Lyle called home. It was a nice little bungalow tucked among the trees. It didn’t have the sweeping views and tall windows of Cooper’s home, but the tall aspen and spreading hardwoods gave it a cozy feel. Lyle’s mountain was rockier than Coopers, the sides seemed to be steeper, with more cliffs and little tucked away nooks and crannies. They had passed the open hillside fields where Lyle had his vineyard. The rows of vines were covered in snow, but she could see that the roots were well protected by piles of straw. He had a garden plot as well, terraced with each level supporting a specific series of crops. He had converted the two car garage to a barn; bet even so, Sanjana had to wonder if the two horses, the four mules, his goats, and the milk cow would all fit in the space. Lyle had told her he could make it work. She could hear him coming up behind her, his own horse grunting with the effort of moving through snow, leading two more mules, each packed as Sanjana’s was with the pelican cases and bags of trade goods from Cooper’s mountains.

Sanjana had volunteered to help Lyle bring the medical kits back. They had spent many moments together, and she found the man kind, intelligent, and his crooked smile was attractive to her. He was not the man her mother would have wanted her to become interested in, but he was the man Sanjana found exciting. They had conversations about subjects she had not thought she would speak to people about again. Lyle had read the same books as Sanjana, was reading some of the ones she wanted to read, knew history and philosophy, and they spoke to each other in French, albeit he in his strange Canadian accent and her in her provincial French, but they were able to share in a way Sanjana had not been able to since Before. When the decision had been made by Lyle to finally head back after they returned to Coopers and took a couple days to rest, both because of their being tired, and because of a day long snow fall that dumped several inches of fresh snow.

None of them had mentioned the weirdness in Forest City, or talked about the dead in the warehouse. They had made a silent pact to not mention the trip once they were free of the oppressive town and valley. The clear air of the mountains helped to purge the gloom that seemed to hang over them. One day, they might laugh about over a glass of corn beer or wine, but for now, each of them had pushed it into the back of their minds until they could process what had happened. Sanjana wanted to put it all off to over active imaginations, but another part of her knew there was more happening than just tricks of the mind; she was Indian enough to believe the old stories were told for a reason.

Lyle reined his horse next to hers.

“Pretty run down, yeah?”

“It looks like shit,” agreed Sanjana. “Are you sure that it will last out the season?”

“The roof might leak, and the windows might let in cold air, but in the summer those help to keep it from getting too hot,” said Lyle.

“I suppose the fireplace smokes up the house as well?”

“If you keep low to the floor, you don’t notice it much.”

“Well, I don’t plan on staying forever,” said Sanjana. “Long enough to let the mules and horse rest up.”

“It might snow again,” reminded Lyle.

“I’ll have to plan my trip back carefully.”

“I could ride back with you,” said Lyle. “Make sure you get back safe.”

“How will I know you get back here safe?” asked Sanjana.

“You might have to just come and check on me.”

“If I were to do that, you’d have to fix the roof.”

Lyle grinned through the cold air. “I’ve been meaning to…”

Sanjana smiled back at him, her expression warming the air between them. “I hope so.” She nodded her head at the house. “Let’s see how bad it is.”

Lyle laughed happily and Sanjana joined in. They urged the horses to the garage, both of them ready to see if they could get along.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by idahobob » Wed Oct 03, 2018 10:35 am

Quite different, and enjoyable. Ghosts in the PAW.............interesting. Almost in time for Halloween. Heh. :shock:

Gotta say Doc, it has been worth the wait.

Much thanks.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by 91Eunozs » Sat Oct 06, 2018 11:49 am

Awesome story Doc... Honestly, I think this one is about the best story of yours I’ve read. Others are more refined/edited, and very well developed, but something about this one really pulled me in and made me feel like I was part of the story. Great tension and build up in the beginning, and a great open-ended conclusion. The not so subtle connections to ancient ghost stories (just in time for Halloween!), make it all the better.

Would love a future chapter about another team coming in later to find the rest of the supplies and a logical explanation to the ghost at the police station...then have something happen that throws it all on its ear again!

Regardless, another window opened into this fabulous world you’ve created. Thank you...seriously...thank you for sharing it with us. What a great start to the weekend!
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by FlashDaddy » Sun Oct 07, 2018 9:45 am

I really love your Cooper World and feel it is am immense gift every time you give us new chapters to read, to escape into and to love. I am a great fan of this genre and I regularly purchase post apocalyptic literature. It has been years since I have read anything anywhere nearly as good as your stories. Your writings are so gripping, so descriptive, and so real. Thank you for sharing your great talent with us!
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by EdRider » Sun Oct 07, 2018 4:24 pm

I really wonder why you have not published the Cooper World stories. They really are better than 95% of what is currently being offered in the market. But I am a fan of "The Mountain" Story and think you should bring that one over to this site and maybe finish it...…

Really enjoyed the origin of how Lyle got with Sanjay and hope the potential 3rd story you mentioned you were working one will come out soon! Most excellent!

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Fri Oct 12, 2018 11:29 pm

Thanks for the complements. I enjoy writing for you all. It reminds of of when I was writing my Road Warrior-esque fiction back in the day, I'd write pages of The Adventures of Ford Kennedy, in Algebra (who said Algebra would never be useful?), and hand the pages back to my buddy, James, who would read it as it was written. From those stories came my interest in writing Apocalyptic fiction. Then it was Noir mysteries, police procedural, a smattering of science fiction, and whatever else pops into my head.

But I ramble.

Everybody likes The Mountain. :clap:

I can see where people want to know what happens with Justin and Darby, Pete and his Mom, and the feud with the Caudells. What happens in the world? I glanced through it recently and saw there was a lot of political and world health background in that; it's funny, most of all that was taken from actual new articles at the time, some of it admittedly embellished to fit the story. I wonder how it would change if I picked it back up. IF. Who knows, I might do that.

There's another tale or two going right now with Cooper--I'm kinda working on at least two, and have a third that I dabble with occasionally. I want to get back to the coast and see what's up with Honeytree and the folks at the salt mine, more on Sanjana and Lyle, More about Cooper and the band he played with; more with Boone and Heidi and Josh. So many tales to tell.

In the mean time, If someone knows an editor who is looking for a new client...

Thanks again.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by EdRider » Tue Oct 16, 2018 11:41 am

Doc - don't be afraid to just port over The Mountain as it sits as it is topic even today. I know many on this site will love it.... but it does need more finish....... hint.

I am looking forward to more Cooper World stories on the topics you suggested might be forthcoming. If I could suggest one, it would focus on El Jefe and the Ranchero with his passing on and the resolution. You could have him reminisce on how he came to the area so we could get some more flavor of his character as a young man and maybe an origin of his pistol.

I am not a professional editor, but with MS word, Grammerly and an attention as a fan, I would be happy to read anything you make and offer any corrections I could find... just PM ME.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Tue Oct 16, 2018 11:26 pm

I honestly never thought about an el Jefe story....


Interesting.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by EdRider » Thu Oct 18, 2018 1:14 pm

Hell... in the Cooper World, I could come up with several topics for you to flesh out:

What about more adventures of Tinker Bob so we can find out how the rest of the general area is fairing.....

Another view of life in the village with the Mayor and his daughter who passed....

Ranch life with Heidi and her family prior to the MC Attack......

More with the Gov't power project........

Follow up with the Manhunter who came for Tim (Not-Tim) and if he ever got the reward he expected......

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Thu Oct 18, 2018 10:54 pm

Okay, so the Manhunter, Issac, I've thought about him some... I've actually thought about having Cooper (or someone) head that way to set up a trade route or something, I've got a couple independent stories started about Issac, just a few paragraphs here and there, so I could probably cobble something together. I like Isaac, he's actually kind of a badass, I'd be interested to see just how that one worked out.

I've got the Power Project started, a few pages... Just not finished.

Tinker Bob and Jugs, that would be a cool one. Writing Tinker Bob would be an interesting endeavor, since Tinker Bob is a taciturn, and kinda grumpy old man, at least in my mind. He's probably an early Gulf War vet, probably invaded Panama back in the day, maybe Somalia as well. See, as I write this I start to develop the character...

The Village of Washington/New Washington (I used both names for the town, for some reason) I've never thought about one for them, but I suppose it could be done. Washington is more of a setting than a character for me. I can come up with something....

Heidi's back story is not pleasant. It's one of abuse and violence, even when her dad was alive.

There's a lot there with all those characters.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Thu Oct 18, 2018 10:56 pm

Tinker Bob might have been a DEA/CIA guy in Central America in the 1990s.

Maybe that's how he knows el Jefe....
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by Johan » Thu Oct 25, 2018 3:48 pm

Thank you for the Moooar, Doc!!!
Good stuff as always!! :words:
I you made my week..
I found the uppdates from both August and October now :) so I made them last for a while. (I haven't been on fiction since the middle of August so it felt like hitting the jackpot!!)
But now I think I'm going into withdrawal, so please post something soon..
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:04 pm

You know how you plan to have something ready for the Holiday and you get it done, and you read it and you go, "It needs more?"

Well, I have something done, I planned on posting it, and I read it and I went, "It needs more. It needs some more body, it needs some more understanding."

This weekend. I'm off the surgery drugs, I'm just on the whiskey, I have all the time before I go back to work.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by EdRider » Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:25 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, Doc...hope the surgery and whiskey are coming along fine. Just re-read the last piece and really enjoyed it again.

Hope what ever you may have ready can be posted soon. I am curious I fit will be about Cooper and the band or more about all of the horse wrangling being done by Boone, Josh and Heidi or some other topic that will stimulate our attention…..

Best Post Fall story out there right now...…...

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Sat Dec 08, 2018 5:01 am

EdRider wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:25 pm
Happy Thanksgiving, Doc...hope the surgery and whiskey are coming along fine. Just re-read the last piece and really enjoyed it again.

Hope what ever you may have ready can be posted soon. I am curious I fit will be about Cooper and the band or more about all of the horse wrangling being done by Boone, Josh and Heidi or some other topic that will stimulate our attention…..

Best Post Fall story out there right now...…...
Thanks!

A little set back with the back going out; you know when you can't do anything, is when everything goes. Shorty took care of everything and now I'm ready to get back into it all. Back to working out, back to yoga, back to thinking clearly. Back to work. My pants still fit and feeling good.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by EdRider » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:16 pm

Doc...… hopen for a Christmas Miracle with the folks from the Cooper World......

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Mon Dec 24, 2018 5:56 am

As an Australian friend of mine is prone to say, "Merry Christmas, ya cunts."




Isaac paused in his efforts at sawing apart the downed tree to stretch his back and take a break from cutting the big tree into fireplace sized logs which could then be split for warmth during the winter months. Casting his gaze around as he paused in his work, Isaac had to smile to himself at the circumstances which had brought him to the bungalow on the edge of the lake. He had been playing man hunter for a well to do local family; the patriarch had been killed in a dispute over a can of beans and the man responsible for the death ran with his family in tow. Isaac—at that point an itinerant former high school history teacher come wanderer—along with a few other men, had been offered the task of finding the killer, with the vacation place owned by the family as the reward. Isaac was able to find the man—Tim Lewis—after several weeks of travel and asking around at the towns and villages he passed along the way. Lewis was found in the town of Washington, half a state away, attending a party being thrown by the town. Isaac confronted Lewis, ready to shoot him if necessary; he was never quite sure where that willingness had come from; he had always considered himself a mild-mannered kind of person, but in that moment Isaac knew he could have shot Tim Lewis and never blinked.

Another man by the name of Cooper stepped in with a solution which saved Isaac the troubles of hauling the man back to Conley or having to shoot him and just haul the body back. With Lewis’s driver’s license in his pocket Isaac carried back the news of Lewis’s demise—as far as the Mullen’s family was concerned—and claimed the reward of the house on the lake. The reward for Isaac was twofold; he also brought back the charming and feisty companion, Dixie, to share the lake house with. He found himself smiling as he watched her spread scratch for the chickens, which clucked and chuckled as she walked among them. He could not have asked for a better person to spend time with. While it was true it was Dixie’s wanderlust which had brought her to this ramshackle cabin on the lake and Isaac and he understood that one day she might saddle up her palomino and disappear, they were content with things as they stood. For the moment, everything was as he would want with the fiery blonde.

Nestled on the hill behind where Dixie was finishing up with the chickens, the bungalow looked out over the expanse of yard which stretched down to the lake—not exactly the 40 acres he had been told would come with the property. It was more like twelve acres and a lot of potential to acquire more if he wanted to clear land and establish ownership through possession. It was not as if Isaac really wanted forty acres; truth was, he barely wanted the house, if there had been such a thing as money in the here and now he would have taken the cash and run. He had not minded wandering from place to place. The last year and a half of his look about had been wearing on him, however, and knowing where he was going to sleep at night had taken a lot of stress he did not realize he had off his mind.

The Mullen’s had put the house up as the reward as much to entice bounty hunters as they had to get rid of the building. The roof was on its last few good years; the house needed painting to protect the exterior wood lap siding, the windows were all glazed, single paned, and rattled when the wind blew above five miles an hour. Isaac had found storm windows in the attic, but they were little more than solid single paned windows which snapped over top of the permanent windows. He supposed they would be better than a cold draft when the wind started blowing off the lake. There were gaps in the bottom of the doors from the house settling and the door sweeps wearing down. The interior had not been updated since the structure had been built mid last century. It consisted of two bedrooms; one of those was more of a bunk room with two bunk beds against the walls and no closet to speak of, a single bathroom—now sporting a sawdust compost toilet and a fifty five gallon plastic barrel in the bathtub which was fed through a down spout run through the bathroom window—the living and dining room combination and a galley kitchen separated from the afore two rooms by a two sided fireplace; the saving grace of the house. Isaac had managed to find an old cast iron box stove in an abandoned barn and after dragging the rusty hunk of metal on a sled with his horse to the house; Isaac installed it in the huge gap and shoved the four pieces of stove pipe up the chimney, calling it done. Dixie forced him to block off the big air gap around the chimney with a roughly cut piece of plywood—after making sure the wood made no contact with the stove pipe—to cut down on drafts. Once the stove was in place, the brick around the stove heated nicely and radiated warmth through the night. The kitchen itself was more of a storage area with the appliances being worthless. In the winter they would probably do the meal prep in the small space and planned to cook on the wood stove, but most of the cooking was done in the outside kitchen Isaac had built off the small cover porch.

While they were not much of ones for up keep and farming, Isaac and Dixie had a garden which was about enough to see them through to winter, probably not much beyond that. The chickens would give eggs and many of them would end up in a stew or on the plate as the weather changed. They got most of their winter supplies by working for people who were more inclined and better suited to preserving and putting up the canned goods needed to make it through a storm.

Out of necessity, Isaac had converted the one car garage into a stable for the horses; he had scavenged fencing from around the lake properties for a corral, there was a shed for storage, and all the water they wanted to haul from the lake. For a free house, Isaac could not complain.

Isaac turned back to his sawing. He had a big crosscut saw, borrowed from one of the people in Conley. He was slowly getting to know the people in the town. They were a little wary of him, mostly because they probably thought of him as a bounty hunter and more than likely, a killer of men. He often noticed people treated him with a differential tone and tended to avoid speaking to him too long. At first, Dixie found it amusing. It became annoying to her when they found they were not included in the normal town events, such as the monthly church social—which they had discovered happened when someone let the event slip in casual conversation; he and Dixie showed up anyway and had a weird time—and a neighborhood get together that they where they were not included. The neighbors had apologized profusely and promised to include them, “the next time.” Even when he had borrowed the saw—something Isaac expected to if not pay for with a little mutual aid, at least have a time limit for when it needed to be returned—the owner had simply given Isaac a nervous smile and told him to, “bring it back whenever.”

He supposed that the reputation, while not necessarily deserved, was at least handy when he wanted privacy.

Isaac was working on a 60 foot big leaf maple which had fallen over in a windstorm, the root ball tearing a hole in the earth, exposing dirt and rock. His plan was to cut as much off the tree as he could by himself and then hopefully work out some trade with people to get help cutting and chopping the portion he could not get through himself. It was times like this that Isaac missed chainsaws and heat in a house which did not depend on trees falling down. It was still mid-summer and Isaac knew he had time to get the tree cut split if he continued to work at it, but Isaac also knew he was not much of a lumber jack nor did he enjoy manual labor for survivals sake. There was a reason why he had chosen being a teacher over a factory worker, something he often told people when they asked why he wanted to spend his life struggling to interest eleventh and twelfth graders in the importance of Civil Rights and the Constitutional Amendments; he’d rather spend ten hours grading papers than eight hours putting part A onto part B. He was a physical person for the most part; Before he had liked to work out, he did outdoor things; camping and skiing and such, Isaac once enjoyed his yearly deer hunting with the guys—more of an excuse to get out in a cabin for a weekend and drink too much beer and complain—but in the here and now, hunting was about eating and that was not as much fun. He used to be pretty good at competing with firearms, too; the 1911 currently at his side was a high-end combat model by a well-known gunsmith, tuned to work—an oxymoron in some gun circles, he knew.

The big limb fell away and Isaac set aside the saw to pick up his axe. Isaac started clearing away the smaller branches from the limb so he could drag the heavy branch away to where he was going to—eventually—cut it in to more manageable size, wood burner pieces. Dixie finished what she was doing and came over to help Isaac, clearing away the small branches from where he was working and pulling them to the big pile they already started for the smaller pieces which were basically worthless to them. Isaac and Dixie worked side by side, cutting, clearing, chopping and dragging until they were left with just the massive trunk. They laughed and talked about people in town, their neighbors, making up stories about each one as the individual came up in conversation.

“What about Sammy?” asked Isaac, picking one of the townspeople for her to expound upon. Dixie seemed to be able to weave an enchanting tale about a person with little more than a casual meeting and a lot of imagination. Isaac knew when they actually found out about the factual lives of those around them, they would be disappointed.

“Which one’s Sammy?” said Dixie as she yanked a branch out from under the log Isaac was sawing in half to make it easier for him to move.

“The guy who sells those stove bricks,” illustrated Isaac. “The one who might have been a yuppie in another life; he’s got the slick hair and the beginnings of a bald spot.”

“Oh, Sammy,” acknowledged Dixie. She paused and grinned. “Sammy was a salesman for big pharma. Sammy actually has a big house on the Coast, and a trophy wife with two daughters who have ponies and they take ballet.”

“How’d he end up in Conley?”

Dixie pulled the branch out and carried it to the pile before answering. Isaac stood as the log was halved, leaning on the trunk for a breather before he started on the next big limb. Dixie began to gather up the smaller twigs and placed them in the wheelbarrow for kindling.

“Well, Sammy also has a country wife.”

“Oh really?” grinned Isaac.

“Hell yeah,” affirmed Dixie. “On some Sunday’s Sammy and his trophy wife do the country club brunches when he’s on the coast, and the other Sunday’s when he’s with his country wife, they go to church and do the whole pot luck social bit,” said Dixie, warming up to her subject. “He’s got a boy and a girl with the country wife. A little hobby farm where she raises chickens and probably has a couple bee hives for the farmers market every Wednesday.”

“Who is the older one?”

Dixie pondered for a moment. “The country wife. The kids aren’t his, they’re hers. Her husband died in a car wreck. No, a farming accident. She was about to lose what was left of the farm and Sammy rescued her; he married her to save the farm.”

“Sammy’s a nice guy,” commented Isaac, picking the next tree limb on the old maple he was going to saw through.

“Well, you see, his grandpa lost his farm, and Sammy remembered going there during the summer when he was a kid.”

“Damn,” said Isaac, picking up the saw. “That sucks. But why marry her?”

“Yeah, well, at first it was just a thing,” said Dixie. “Then, you know, all of a sudden, he’s in the little chapel at the local church getting hitched.”

“Still doesn’t tell me how he ended up in Conley,” Isaac pointed out, pulling the saw and sending a sprinkle of sawdust to the grass at his feet.

“Remember he’s a travelling salesmen for big pharma? Conley is one of his out of the way stops. He used to make rounds here at the local doctor’s offices and the clinic. When shit fell apart, he was between places. He ran out of gas here, Sammy figured he’d wait until the next tanker came in and then it didn’t. By that time, it was all just shit everywhere.”

“So Sammy stayed.”

“Yep.”

The limb fell and Isaac picked up the axe. “What about the wives?”

“Sammy couldn’t decide which one to go to,” said Dixie simply. “It was better to leave them both, in his mind, than to pick one. Or maybe they were too far away to reach either?”

“That’s kind of a dick thing, don’t you think?”

“He was a salesman for big pharma,” reminded Dixie. Isaac laughed.

They worked for a little while longer, cleaning up the limbs around the trunk, until the shadows became long on the ground. Isaac stopped when his stomach growled at him and he realized he had not eaten since that morning. He stopped Dixie as she was struggling with a branch caught under the heavy tree.

“Let’s stop,” Isaac told her. “We can start again tomorrow. I’m starving.”

“Yeah?” she asked. “I’ve not even thought about food.”

“Well, I’ve been lifting heavy things, and being manly,” he told her.

She laughed and gave him a playful push. “Manly? I suppose you can say you’re manly.”

He caught her arm and pulled her into his sweaty embrace. She protested and then kissed him. “You want to fool around before we shower?”

“I thought you were hungry?”

He grinned. “I am.”

She leaned into him again.
Last edited by doc66 on Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Mon Dec 24, 2018 5:57 am

“What were you thinking for food?” asked Isaac as he toweled off.

Dixie, already mostly dressed from her turn in the outdoor shower, was shimmying in to a pair of jeans. Isaac loved to watch her get dressed. Watching her was like a burlesque in reverse, right up until she buckled the gun belt around her hips. “Why don’t we saddle up and go into town?”

“Is the diner open?”

“I heard a rumor last week there was going to be a piano player in town,” she told Isaac. “Besides, I don’t feel like cooking, you’re not very good at it, and I’d trade off some of those crappy canned lima beans for a couple tacos and a shot of the hooch Margaret sells out the back door.”

“Those were pretty crappy,” agreed Isaac. “How many do we have left?”

“Four or five cans.”

“You get them, I’ll saddle up the horses.”

In no time, they were on horseback headed to town. The town was on the other side of the lake from the house, and the road they took to Conley meandered alone the shoreline winding among the houses and trees and rising up hillocks. The houses they passed were mostly ones which had been abandoned because the owners did not have the fortitude or skills to survive or forgotten vacation homes. Isaac and Dixie had explored the ones closest to their house, rummaging through what was left in the homes, salvaging what they could out of the neglect. It was in one of those properties Isaac had found the cast iron stove. The few places where they had neighbors, they stopped briefly when they saw someone, still trying to make the effort to be neighborly and appear normal.

Side roads went up into the hills around the lake. If one travelled up those roads, there were subdivisions and enclaves of people. Isaac had not gone very far up those side roads; the need make the bungalow livable and the need to make sure they had enough to survive the winter took much of his waking moments. He wondered if he would feel like trying to make a go of the house this time next year. It would largely depend on Dixie, something he hated to admit to. The past several months had been very pleasant with her around as a help mate and a companion. Mid afternoon sun sent light sparkling through the trees around them and the ride was pleasant even though the early part of the day had been hot. Out on the water, someone was in a John boat and even from the distance Isaac could see the person had several lines out at once. He wondered if they were catching anything and if it were for sustenance, or if they were taking a moment of rare leisure time to escape and using the time to see if they could simply get lucky for dinner?

They passed the house of a neighbor who was working out near the road, repairing a fence which at one time was ornamental but now had been pressed into service to contain a couple of milk cows. At the moment, the cows were lead tied to a telephone pole outside the fence, munching on the grasses as if there was nothing wrong in the world. The neighbor stopped in his work and waved to Isaac and Dixie.

“Hello,” he called, using the excuse to step up to the road. They reigned in the horses and greeted him in return. He walked up to the horses. “You folks headed into town?”

“We’re using the excuse of working all day and not getting anything ready to eat to go and see what the diner has,” said Isaac.

“That would be nice to get away from this place for a little while,” said the man.

Isaac searched his memory and finally came up with the man’s name. “Well, Lucas, we probably don’t have the time ourselves, but we decided it was a nice afternoon to take off.”

“It is,” agreed Lucas. “What are trading?” asked the man. Probably more out of curiosity and the want of keeping the two around to avoid work than anything else.

“Lima beans,” grinned Dixie. Lucas made a face. Dixie gave the man a laugh. “That’s why we’re trading them.” She peered at the house where she knew the wife was probably leaning next to a window. “You all need anything in town?”

Lucas shook his head, glancing back at the house. “A jar of that moonshine Margaret sells,” he said in almost a whisper and covered his longing with a laugh. Then louder, “We were in town two days ago and traded off some things. I think we’re good at the moment, but thanks for asking.”

Dixie made a side glance at Isaac, who understood this was a signal to remember to pick up a couple jars of moonshine.

“What’cha got going here?” asked Isaac.

“Damn cows,” said Lucas, motioning to the bovines calmly grazing in the yard. “They keep leaning on the fence and breaking it down. Sometimes I think I should have kept the truck and camper instead of trading it for the cows.”

“You traded it to those gypsies?” asked Isaac.

“Yeah, they wanted to make a wagon out of it,” said Lucas. “Damn cows are probably stolen.”

Isaac and Lucas laughed at that and Dixie joined in. She had been studying the fence while they had been talking and when the laughter died down, she nodded at the fence. “That’s all wood?”

“It’s a decorative fence really,” agreed Lucas. “I’ve been trying to shore it up, but they always find a new place to break out.”

“Find a couple of strands of barbed wire fence,” suggested Dixie. “String it along the top, inside the posts, do a couple of strands about eight inches apart. That’ll keep them from leaning on the fence; it’ll give them a bite when they do and they’ll back off. I noticed that there’s a fence you can probably scavenger down the road a little ways.”

“Yeah? Okay,” said Lucas, nodded. He was willing to take advice since he was obviously out of his element. If asked about investment stocks, Lucas might have been better versed.

“Tell you what,” said Dixie. “Me and Isaac will come down and help you out with that, pulling the old fence and stringing it up new, if you’ll come over and help us saw up some wood; we’ve got a maple that fell and we’re trying to clean it up. Maybe we can make a trade in good, hard maple firewood for some of the beef when you butcher?”

Lucas thought it over for most of a second before agreeing. “You know how to butcher?”

Dixie smiled. “You think I got a name like Dixie not knowing how to skin out an animal?”

“We’ll talk more,” assured Lucas. “For now, I need to get back to this and I’m going to walk on down to that other fence and see what we can use.” He stepped away from the horses and waved. “You all take care.”

Isaac and Dixie waved their goodbyes, urging the horses into a walk. Once away from Lucas, Isaac looked over at Dixie. “You do know how to butcher?”

“I know how to butcher a deer,” she said. “A cow is a big deer.”

Isaac laughed. “Well, at least we got some help with that damn tree.”

“You ever strung fence?”

“I was a history teacher,” said Isaac. “I might be all big and muscles, but my experience at manual labor adds up to changing tires and mowing lawns, until all this shit happened.”

Dixie took her turn at laughing. “It’s a good thing you’re so pretty, ‘cause I’ll bet you were worthless otherwise.”

Isaac was almost offended. It must have shown on his face because Dixie leaned over in her saddle and touched his shoulder. “It’s okay, you’re pretty good in the sack, and that helps.”

“That does not make me feel better,” decided Isaac.

“We’ve been doing okay so far, Big Guy,” smiled Dixie.

Isaac shrugged. He let himself give her a slight smile to show they were okay, but it still rankled him to have his lack of abilities brought out in the open. It was no comfort to him that most of the population of the world was probably in the same shoes he was wearing. Settling down to try and make a go of it in the lake house had magnified his lack of basic skills. Truth was, without Dixie being there to coax him through some of the tasks, he would have probably just moved on in his vagabond ways and left the house to the next person to come along. Dixie’s life of mountain farming and her 4H ribbons and who knew what else experience she had, had kept them afloat a couple times when Isaac might have tossed everything in and saddled up his horse. Caring for the horse—Baloney he had named the animal—those first months had been an ordeal of trial and error; his ability to research and finding an old cowboy to get advice from had kept him from laming the horse and probably killing it. He was still a little paranoid about the animal and spent a lot of time double checking Baloney’s health and welfare.

Dixie changed the subject by giving him a lecture on the fine art of fence stringing. To Isaac it sounded like a lot of work. Tension, staples, runs, cross bracing, it all began to muddle together in his mind. He thought about eating steak, and the amount of work just did not seem to add up for the brief pleasure an oversized T-bone might give him. Dixie read his face and saw his lack of interest.

“This shit is important, Isaac,” she said in a firm voice. “I like to hang out and have fun just as much as the next girl, but if you want to make it, more importantly, if you want me to stick around, you’ll start giving a little more of a shit on how to get things done. You can’t always get by pretending to kill someone.”

“That’s a little harsh,” groused Isaac. She shot him a sour look. Isaac didn’t bother to tell Dixie she was not entirely correct about his experience with dealing out death. While the truth was he had only had two other incidents involving shooting firearms, they had been very deadly. He did not like to talk about them or think about them, and her accusation made his ire rise. He bit back his retort and struggled to keep from snapping at Dixie. After all, she could only know what he told her.

Fighting the anger down, Isaac sighed and relented. “Okay, listen, I’m not, not paying attention. I’ve got a lot on my mind at the moment. Let’s be honest; prepping the house for the winter has become a lot more involved than either of us thought it would be. The tree falling has added a lot of labor and taken time out of other things we should be working on. We got the garden in late; we’re going to have to come up with ways to trade or work for what we’ll need to get by until other plans come to fruition. It’s good we’ll help Lucas put up the fence, we’ll kill a cow with him. We’ll chop up the downed tree. There’s a million other things that need to get done too; I’m a little stressed.”

Dixie shook her head, but proffered a smile as well; she recognized that he was concerned, but couldn’t help but make another side remark. “How did you live this long?”

“I’m pretty,” said Isaac, fighting his irritation because he knew she was teasing him. She gave him a rueful laugh which made him smile. Isaac sighed and waved a hand at a fly bothering the horse. “Listen, I don’t mean to be an ass about it. Surviving the end of the world was not on my radar; I never thought there would be one. When it started to happen, I figured I’d be the last person to actually look around and be standing in the ashes. I know I have a lot to learn about all this and I’m playing catch up.”

“Isaac,” started Dixie in a tone which reminded him a lot of when his mother was about to tell him how disappointed she was. Isaac glanced at her and saw that she was in fact struggling to keep a level tone and give useful information. “We all have a lot to learn. You’ve got to put a little more effort into making things work. Do you really think that charm and faking it will get you through another winter? Honestly, I’m not really sure how you made it this long.”

Isaac shrugged, the sting of her words making him wince. They had been together for just a couple months and were still finding out things about each other. Dixie was not afraid to voice her opinions, and this made Isaac more than aware of some of his lack of abilities to survive in the world they were now in. He and Dixie rode for a moment in silence.

“I don’t mean to be a bitch about all of it,” said Dixie, in complete honesty.

“You’re not,” said Isaac, honestly, because he knew that even though she was sounding bitchy her intentions were for the betterment of the both of them. “I seriously have gotten by being a slacker, in a lot of ways.”

“Well, you have skills,” she relented. “We just have to work to apply them; you know about horses, you do know about homesteading and all the things it requires. All those things you researched and did papers on about the American frontier, I mean, look at how handy that’s been for you.”

“Yeah, it’s nice to have soap.”

“It is,” agreed Dixie. She shifted in her saddle. “Listen, Isaac, can we at least agree that getting the place prepped for winter is a priority? I know it seems like it’s far away, but it’ll be here before you know it.”

“I know, Dixie,” said Isaac. He sighed and leaned on the saddle horn. “I’ve spent a lot of time the last two years riding around on Baloney and just existing, I mean, even Before, I didn’t have much to tie me down. When all this hit, I simply picked up a few things I thought I might need and became a vagabond. I got Baloney here, and it just made it easy to be a saddle tramp. It’s still my mind set in a lot of ways.”

“Time to buck up, little camper,” said Dixie half in jest. “I won’t stay around just for the sex.”

“I know,” said Isaac.

Dixie let out a long breath. “I like you.”

“I know,” Isaac told her with a smile. “I’m hoping that will continue.”

“Me too.”

Ahead of them, Conley began with an old picturesque truss bridge over the shallow river which meandered down from the mountains. Conley had put loads of environmental restrictions in place town and county wide to keep the river from becoming a cesspool of trash and bacteria Before because the lake and surrounding hills were a tourist draw. Those rules had come in handy in the here and now, keeping the risks to a minimum now that many people drew their water from the river’s supply. There was a water commission left over from Before and those survivors had decided early on to keep enforcing the rules. The townspeople pumped the water from the river into large, 275 gallon IBC tanks drawn at two points. Everyone was required to get their water from the tanks or they could collect rain water on their own property. If people drew their water from the town supply, they were allowed to draw a generous ration of up to ten gallons every two days, depending on the weather and the drought factors. Boiling was always recommended, and there were faded signs all over town reminding people to boil their water.

Empty businesses were scattered among the homes which were beginning to line the roadway. The old gas station was now a horse livery, and an ice cream stand beside it sold chickens—for meat and laying—according to the hand-written sign. The chickens were brought in weekly from a large former factory farm out in the county; the place no longer had the inhumane conditions of caging the poultry from birth to death, but they still had a large population of birds which had been “rescued” by former employees who had spotted easy meals and then a business opportunity early on in the aftermath of the collapse. Once Isaac and Dixie crossed the bridge the road became a street lined with old maple trees and majestic houses. People strolled the sidewalks and here and there a horse or a team with a wagon was tied to the parking meters. Businesses still existed in the downtown section; an antique store still traded in furniture, a second hand clothing store displayed winter coats; a sign in the window advertised clothing repair specials. There was a cobbler who would resole shoes with cast off tire tread, using a foot powered sewing machine that could punch through the leather and the rubber. Needles were scarce for the machine, and because of this, he took his time resoling the shoes, careful to hand punch holes in the tough rubber before attempting to place the treads on the shoe. The expensive store—the one owned by the Mullen’s—sold Before goods; canned food—if they were not too far out of date—toilet paper, cigars and cigarettes, soap—when it could be found—and numerous other products that manufacturing had put on the shelves Before which were near impossible to get. There was even a locked case of chocolate. Isaac had heard of people trading livestock for a chocolate bar. Rumor had it that even coffee could be had for the right price.

They rode past the store, and Isaac noted three worn horses and a four—string of pack animals in front of the store. The pack string was made up of mules and donkeys, all of them listless as they stood in the shade of the trees lining the street. The pack on the animals had been cobbled together out of duffle bags and backpacks, and even Isaac could see that the animals were suffering from the way the load was suspended on their backs. He imagined they had sores from the rubbing of the loaded packs. If the equines were not properly taken care of soon, the men would be minus more than one load bearer. There was a rough looking man standing outside of the Mullen’s store, keeping a wary eye on the animals and watching those who went passed. He openly carried a semiautomatic shotgun with the barrel cut down at the magazine lug, and had several pistols shoved in holsters around his body. In spite of his weaponry, to Isaac the man looked like he was a more of a back stabber, rather than a stand and face you kind of person. The man’s gear was a miss-mash of equipment ranging from a police belt and holster to an early Middle East war chest rig and an old school leather shoulder holster. He watched Isaac and Dixie ride past, his eyes following Dixie and her horse for longer than Isaac felt was necessary. Isaac glanced at Dixie who had her jaw set in a firm line, ignoring the stare of the bandit looking man.

“I wonder what they’re up to,” murmured Isaac when they were passed the store.

“No good,” returned Dixie, her back straight in the saddle as she finally released her jaw muscles to reply.

“They’re fucking up those animals,” said Isaac, shifting slightly in the saddle to give the string one last glance. Dixie did not answer him. “Think the police know they’re in town?”

“Probably,” said Dixie. “But if they’re traders, they’re more than likely giving them a pass until their business is done.”

Conley had three police officers. There was the chief, a retired Highway Patrolman who spent most of his time keeping up his once—a hobby farm, an insomniac veteran from the last war who slept above the old firehouse, and the one full time officer everyone called Barney behind his back—his real name was Mike, something— who had retired from the towns original collection of officers and had stepped up to take the beat once more when the younger officers gave up the calling to keep their families alive in the hereafter. Mike and the insomniac survived on the donations taken in from the townspeople, either of them could be found sharing a meal with someone in town most days. The force was mostly in place to keep track of people passing through and to collect the town’s tax in the manner of a portion of goods from Tinkers and caravans. Beyond the town limits, the law was left up to the people who lived there.

Isaac touched the custom 1911 at his side. It was an instinctive motion; one made to be sure that all was in place. He had only brought the pistol and a magazine, thinking that the sidearm was more a matter of form than necessity for the ride into town. He wondered if he was perhaps being paranoid, but the sight of the man and his shotgun had unsettled something deep in his psyche.

The diner was just ahead, and Isaac and Dixie tied the horses off at the hitching post next to a surrey being drawn by a big draft horse which was probably pulling the surrey for an evening instead of a plow. Isaac grabbed up the cans of lima beans and a couple bars of the soap he and Dixie made to pay for the meal and hopefully a couple shots of the white lightening they kept under the counter. Through the open door of the diner could be heard the sound of piano playing. The keys might have been slightly out of tune, but it had been so long since Isaac heard music, he was willing to ignore the odd note. Dixie paused for a moment to listen.

“That’s pretty,” she said. “I wonder what it is.”

Isaac listened for a moment. “Bach.”

“Oh, Mister Smarty Pants?”

“Prelude in C,” said Isaac.

She stared at him for a moment. “You’re making that up.”

“Nope,” said Isaac as the last notes faded away. “My mom made me take piano lessons. I wanted to play the guitar.”

“You good at it?”

“I could have been better,” admitted Isaac. “But I can stumble my way around a keyboard long enough to impress people at a party—or a girl.”

“That shit won’t work on me now that I know your secret,” laughed Dixie.

Smiling, Isaac gave her a knowing nod. “You care to make a wager on that?”

“Get inside,” she told him as the piano began to play again.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 10/03/2018

Post by doc66 » Mon Dec 24, 2018 5:58 am

They stepped into the diner to find it full of people sitting at benches behind tables and in chairs which had been pulled out to line the blank spaces between tables. There was an air of awe and appreciation in the room as the listeners sat gazing at the mousey looking woman who was stroking the keys behind the old upright. Rapt, the audience absorbed every note, swaying with the melodies and soaking in the songs the woman played. The woman sat with her eyes closed, her roughly cut hair captured by a colorful scarf which mingled with her hair and flowed down her back and over a shoulder in turn. The peasant dress she wore was a simple black material with white border embroidered at the neck, sleeves and hem. She wore no shoes, her dusty feet were tapping out her beat and pumping the pedals, the multitude of bracelets she wore around her ankles and wrists moved with her motions, seeming to chime in time with the music. Off to one side sat a man who from the style of clothing he wore and the violin and viola cases at his side, was obviously her companion. He looked appropriately bohemian in the faded striped sailors shirt worn under the vest. He was sitting unassumingly next to a pile of tipped goods which ranged from canned food to an old rain jacket which probably refused to shed rain.

The diner was run by a family and one of the siblings came up to them as they stood looking at the people filling the diner.

“There’s room out on the patio,” said the kid who was just out of his teens. “You can still hear the music, and it’s a lot cooler out there. You are here to eat?”

“We are,” assured Isaac.

“Good,” the kid looked embarrassed. “I mean, it’s just that we’ve got a lot of people drinking, and not many ordering food.”

“Lead on,” said Isaac keeping his tone light to show he was not offended.

The kid led them to the patio and seated them close enough to hear the music at a table with a couple other people who were sipping on tumblers of what looked to be water, but Isaac knew was far from that liquid of life. Isaac set the lima bean cans and the soap on the table as they sat. The kid looked them over and nodded. He put them to one side and recited the day’s menu for them.

“We have fish and chips; the oil was new yesterday and came in last week on that caravan. We’ve got chicken pot pie, baked fish or baked chicken with fries or rice, greens or green beans, and tomato and cucumber salad. Dessert is either apple cobbler or peaches with blackberries,” the kid told them, almost in one breath.

“How many pieces of fish on the fish and chips?” asked Isaac. “When was it caught?”

“Depends on the size of the filet, four or six,” the kid. “The fish was caught this morning.”

“Fish and Chips, with a cucumber salad,” decided Isaac.

The kid looked at Dixie.

“Chicken and rice and greens,” said Dixie. “I’ll have the cucumber salad too.”

“Dessert?”

“Maybe,” said Isaac after glancing at Dixie, who indicated it depended on how much food was sent out on the plate. “But we’ll have a couple glasses of the counter drink.”

The kid nodded and left them at the table. Their table companions leaned over after a moment.

“You two live at the old Muller vacation house?”

Dixie smiled and leaned over to talk to them. “We do, you folks are a few houses down from us, In the two story log home, headed back toward the hills?”

“Yes, we’re Bob and Nancy.” Bob and Nancy were older, probably in their late 40s or early 50s. Dixie could tell they were once part of the upper crust of the lake society, not only from the house they owned, but the clothing they wore; it was all branded outdoor clothing, great for wine on the deck and struggling to be survival wear. Bob looked as if he was lost most of his executive bulk and his gym muscles were now thin and hard from working to keep them alive. Nancy had accepted she was no longer a bottle blonde and embraced the silver hair. Dixie had to smile to herself; since Nancy was no longer starving herself with fad diets and taking spin classes, she had actually put on healthy weight and filled out the clothing she wore. The years of surviving the End had been good to Nancy, but Bob looked to be worn out; he was not meant to live this long, thought Dixie, it was the will of Nancy that kept things going.

Dixie held out her hand, shaking the table companions in turn and then motioned to Isaac, introducing the two of them with a bright smile. “Nice to meet both of you.”

“You as well,” said Nancy. “I saw you had a tree come down in the last storm.”

“We’re working on clearing it up,” said Dixie. “Lucas, in the ranch coming into town? He’s agreed to help us out and we’re trading some work.”

“We had three come down, one of the over the driveway, not that it matters right now, but it’s a mess up there,” said Nancy. “Our son and his wife are up there right now, still cutting away at the trees. Bob and I took the evening off; we’ll be staying in town tonight and walking back up in the morning.”

“We’re just in town for the evening,” said Dixie, sitting back as the kid brought their firewater and placed it in front of them. “We heard there was music and thought we’d take a break.”

“You two have done wonderful things to the Mullen’s place,” said Nancy. “If you’re working with Lucas, perhaps we can come to some arrangement? Three trees down are a lot of work—.”

Dixie glanced at Isaac who shrugged and smiled tightly. She patted his hand and turned back to Nancy, wondering just what the woman meant to trade for the work? Dixie knew to never discount the offerings of other people, and perhaps Nancy had a secret stash of toilet paper she was willing to trade off for a little help around the big log home.

“Sure thing,” said Dixie. “We’ll talk; always willing to help out.”

Nancy glanced at Isaac, who was leaned back with his drink in hand and listening to the music coming through the open door. “It’s nice to have you two in the neighborhood; it’s safer feeling now.”

Dixie cocked her head for a moment and then realized Nancy felt safer because she thought Isaac was a killer; their killer, surmised Dixie. She was momentarily repulsed by the statement, and quickly pushed it away. Things were different now; people were valued for base abilities, and not everyone had those abilities. Dixie looked at Isaac. She knew the truth of that moment. She knew Isaac was living on a borrowed notion around the lake, but she had been there, and she had seen Isaac’s face. Isaac had been willing to do what he needed to; he was saved from the decision by Cooper. Despite her picking on Isaac at times, she knew there was an undercurrent of energy running through Isaac. She wasn’t sure if it was controlled violence or just ferocity of will.

“He’s a good man,” said Dixie to Nancy.

Their salads were brought out and Nancy sat back after obtaining a promise to speak more after they ate. Isaac and Dixie dug into their food as Bob and Nancy stood during a break in the music to speak with someone else nearby.

“What was that all about?” asked Isaac.

Dixie filled Isaac in between mouthfuls of cucumber and tomato. He listened to the breakdown of the conversation from Dixie and sighed when she told him Nancy thought Isaac was a stone-cold killer and this belief made her feel safe. Isaac carefully set his fork down on the plate.

“I don’t think she meant anything mean by it,” said Dixie. “She just meant that Bob was less than inspiring when it came to defending her or the property.”

“I’m not everyone’s hired gun,” said Isaac.

“She’s not asking you to be; you just make people feel safe.” Dixie put her hand on top of Isaac’s and gave it a squeeze. “I feel safe.”

Isaac captured her hand and squeezed it back. He let go when the main course came out.

The fish was crispy and the chips were perfectly cooked with a satisfying snap and puffy interior. Isaac and Dixie traded bites of food as the music began again, this time with the viola joining in. The kid came out and checked on them, offering more moonshine, which they accepted. Dixie put in her request for a couple of jars of the firewater and the kid nodded that he would bring them while taking to top off the jar he had in hand. As he poured, there was a commotion in the main dining area. Isaac leaned back to see what was going on.

At the doorway was the sneaky looking man from the sidewalk and two companions. Isaac felt himself go cold at the sight of the other two men. They were dressed much the same as the first man; bearded and rough looking, they wore a mismatch of gear from police and military sources. One of the men was taller than the other two and stood back near the doorway, carefully watching the exterior through the doorway while the other two negotiated with a man who looked to be an older version of the kid. The kid set the jar of white lightening down and nervously dropped a hand to his pocket. Isaac saw the motion and noticed that the kid had what looked to be a small revolver there. The music did not falter, but Isaac could see that the piano player and the violaist were whispering options of escape to each other. After a moment, the third man, a salt and pepper haired bandit with a battered Army emblazoned ballcap, nodded spitefully and he pulled the M4 off his shoulder and handed it back to the tall man. The street bandit handed over his sawn off and the tall man disappeared back outside. Isaac presumed to put the long arms on the horses. When the tall man came back, the older version of the kid lead the three back toward the patio where Isaac and Dixie sat.

“Great,” said Isaac. Dixie gave him a curious look as the kid picked up the bottle of moonshine and disappeared. “Those guys from the street, they’re here.”

“The bandits?”

“Yep.”

“We’ll finished our food, get that bottle of shine for Lucas and head home,” said Dixie. Isaac nodded.

The three came out onto the patio and let their gaze sweep the gathered there. Isaac saw the looks pause on each person, lingering on some of the women, Nancy for one, and then fall on Isaac and Dixie. The street bandit elbowed the tall man and indicated where Dixie and Isaac sat. The tall man swiveled his head in their direction, his eyes falling on Isaac and Dixie in turn before looking away. The conversations feel silent as the men took their seats and glasses of hooch were set in front of them by the kid. The bandits drained the glasses and stopped the kid from leaving with the jar. After a moment of what seemed to be heated argument, the tall man straightened in the chair and the kid left without the bottle. The men laughed at his leaving and poured off more of the booze. Isaac and Dixie concentrated on finishing their plates.

The threesome was loud and crass. They made rude and rough comments to each other, not caring who was in earshot, and managed to discuss the women they saw around them in loud whispers. They obviously were used to simply bullying their way through small towns and the populace. A small family gathered up their oblivious children and left the patio. Others were making motions to clear out as well. Food was brought to the table of the men, who dug into the food with gusto after demanding another jar of moonshine, even though they had not finished the one in front of them. Isaac heard them make the statement that; “The Mullen’s” would cover the cost. He absently wondered what they might have traded for their line of credit.

Seeing the three men made Isaac think back on his history degree and the Thirty Years’ War—from 1618 until 1648, the Thirty Years’ War was responsible for wiping out a large portion of the Central European population and throwing the dominance of the Catholic Church into decline. The Thirty Years’ War also saw the rise of many mercenary groups who, when not selling their swords and arquebuses to the highest bidder, tended to rape and pillage their way through the countryside until someone gave them money to go away, or they were ambushed by the locals who had enough. Sir John Hawkwood made a fortune with the White Company and ended up being a political power broker. Isaac found himself wondering just how this group had managed to find their way to Conley. He supposed the attraction of the lakeside town from Before still held sway in the minds of those outside of the town as a place where rich came to spend leisure time. Because of this people came here thinking there was a profit to be had. Isaac supposed it was true; there was still enough conspicuous wealth around Conley that the better off could afford to give away houses to achieve their will, much in the same way Monarchies gave away Lordships and Dukedoms. Laughing to himself, Isaac wonder just where on the sovereign scale he was since he had accepted the lake house as payment for a job well done.

Nancy and Bob came back over to the table and sat down next to Isaac and Dixie as the music changed up to a rendition of a turn popular Before. Nancy leaned over to Dixie. “We’ll come down and see you, perhaps we can come to some agreement about those trees?"

“That would be lovely,” agreed Dixie. “I’m sure there’s things we can work out.”

Turning to Bob, Nancy began to speak. “Did you settle up with Jim?”

“I did,” confirmed Bob. Nancy glanced at the three men and then at the fading sunlight.

“Well, we have a long way to go, and it will be dark before we can get home.”

Dixie gave Isaac a meaningful glance of her own. Isaac nodded and smiled at Nancy and Bob. “We’ll go with you at least to your road; it will help to pass the time.”

“You have horses—,” said Bob.

“We can walk them,” assured Dixie.

While they made their decision, the kid came by with a plastic bag wrapped around the bottles of moonshine Isaac and Dixie had promised Lucas.

They all stood together and Isaac saw the salt and pepper bandit glance their way. He placed a protective hand on the small of her back and made sure that he was the last one through the door. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck raise as they stepped into the main part of the restaurant. The piano player was starting to play Bohemian Rhapsody and the people in the restaurant were joining in the sing along with a gusto fueled by memories and nostalgia, and being a part of something that was bigger than themselves and a part of the world that was, and would be forever. Isaac found himself wishing he could stay and belt out the words that everyone knew by heart with them, but he also knew that they needed to get outside. A quick glance behind showed the bandits oozing through the doorway to the interior, not far behind them. Isaac wondered what they hope to accomplish, but knew sometimes, there was no reason for the way people acted.

“Momma, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he’s dead—,” Isaac hummed the words with every single person as they stepped out into the evening air.

The sun was starting to cast a golden glow over the town, casting long shadows through the trees and giving the lake a shimmering appearance as the water lapped at the shores of the town limits. The four of them walked over to where the horses were tied to the parking meters. Isaac was aware of the three thugs exiting through the door and glancing around. One of them spied Dixie and elbowed the man next to him. They grinned at one another and pretended to have business in the direction of the four townspeople.

Nancy saw that the rough looking men were ambling over to where the four of them stood and nudged Bob. “Maybe we should just go back inside?”

Before Bob could answer, the bandits were next to them, leaning on the parking meters and filling the air with the scent of body odor and alcohol. Bob leaned up as the salt and pepper brigand used a parked car as a prop. The street bandit held himself up on the edge of the fender while the tall one stood over Isaac. Isaac purposely scooted his foot back to make the man move, stepping on the man’s foot to encourage him. The man grunted and growled, but he yanked his foot free and stepped back, giving Isaac the opportunity to clear more space around him and sit so the tall bandit was no longer behind him, but to his side. The street bandit glanced at the tall man and then at the salt and pepper bandit before speaking.

“I saw you two come into town,” said street bandit, letting his eyes roam over Dixie, who was stuffing the jars of white dog in her saddle bags. “Nice horses.”

“They are,” agreed Isaac, wishing for a moment they had just left without worrying about the food on their plates and the moonshine.

“You want to sell them?” asked the bandit, showing teeth.

“No,” said Isaac.

“We’ll pay a good price,” assured the man, turning his teeth towards Dixie for a moment. “You can ask anybody, we got the trade. You can come outside and pick what you want.”

Shaking his head, Isaac repeated his rejection. Bob and Nancy were hemmed in and trying to figure out a way to get clear of the rabble.

“Looking wouldn’t hurt,” said Bob, trying to negotiate a path for them to escape.

Isaac gave the neighbor a hard look. “They aren’t for sale, Bob.”

“It doesn’t hurt to look,” said street bandit, picking up Bob’s negotiating tactics while looking at Dixie.

Isaac straightened in his seat. “You look at her one more time, I’ll beat you within an inch of your life.”

The air was suddenly sucked off the street.

Street bandit leaned away from Dixie and gave Isaac a sharp, confused glance as if no one had ever spoken to him in that manner. Tall bandit shifted to close the distance with Isaac, which made Isaac stick out a foot and stop the tall bandit as Isaac brought his heel down hard on the man’s toe’s. The tall bandit winced and stepped back, letting Isaac come to his own height. Salt and pepper bandit straightened over Bob, still observing, and at the same time forming the conclusion that Isaac might be a little more of a hard case than they had surmised. The three bandits had been running roughshod over people for so long, the resistance was unexpected and they were unsure how to react.

“My horses aren’t for sale,” said Isaac. He looked at the salt and pepper bandit, surmising that this was the leader. He kept an eye on the tall man out of the corner of his eye as he spoke. “I’ve seen the condition of your horses, and someone needs to take them away from you so that you don’t kill them. Someone needs to teach you a lesson in the basic care and maintenance of your pack animals; husbandry is a skill you could learn. Then perhaps a little research on how to pack a horse, what kind of suspension system to use so that the animals aren’t carrying the weight wrong and you’re not killing them by putting too much weight or ill distributed weight that leaves sores on them,” lectured Isaac, making Dixie see him in a different light—the combination of his tactics and the ability to impart information showing her a side she never had experienced. The brigands were caught off guard by Isaac’s speech and his ability to create space, they gawked at the man as Bob and Nancy used the moment to slip by the men.

Isaac continued. “But I don’t expect a bunch of stupid, low life crooks to be able to read enough to find this information out. Truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t sell you my horses if you were offering me the title to this town. I wouldn’t sell you my horse if he were on his last leg and you were trading me a truck with a full tank of gas; the truth is,” said Isaac with force, “you pieces of shit could get my horse from me if you tried to kill me.”

Street bandit stared at Isaac and then glanced over at Dixie, his expression one of muddled amusement, as if he had only understood half of what Isaac was saying to him. Salt and pepper recoiled at the words, “low life crooks,” and his face became beat red as he stood away from the fender of the derelict car. Tall bandit heard, “pieces of shit,” and looked to salt and pepper.

Salt and pepper started with, “You can’t talk to me like that, I’m a veteran.”

Isaac ignored him and saw street bandit glance at Dixie. “What did I tell you?”

Street bandit sneered as he saw tall bandit step up to Isaac. “You ain’t go the balls—,” he began to say.

Dixie started the ball rolling. From her place by the horse, Dixie gave street bandit a sweeping knee to the groin, driving his testicles hard against his pelvis and doubling the man over so fast that his head bounced on the horses flank, rattling the bottles in the saddle bag and making the horse side step. When he staggered back, his face was a dark purple and he was gasping for breath. He still had enough left in him to try and free his pistol, but the pain in his groin was keeping him from functioning. Dixie did not have that problem. She was drawing her pistol even as the fight was being carried across from her.

Tall bandit threw his arms out to engulf Isaac.

Having already stepped on tall bandits’ toes, Isaac knew the distance to the man. He threw up an elbow, shifting his hips with the blow, catching tall bandit in the throat, making the man gasp and struggle to take in a breath and Isaac slipped outside of his reaching arms and pushed him into the car as he was wheezing for breath. Salt and pepper was cursing at Isaac and had his pistol free to train on Isaac. Isaac stepped away from the staggering tall thug as Bob and Nancy scrambled to get further clear of the mayhem; Bob and Nancy were both screaming in unison, their voices combining to cut across the sound of the music coming from the interior of the restaurant. Salt and pepper was trying to draw a bead on Isaac while avoiding Bob, who managed to give the man a hard push as Bob went by him. Salt and pepper growled out a curse, snarling a swearing and shouting and pushing Bob into Nancy. The pistol was in Isaac’s hand and he was side stepping and pressing the trigger and focusing on the front sight as the shape of salt and pepper tried to follow him and keep his own pistol on Isaac. There was a flash from salt and peppers pistol and Isaac felt his own pistol wiggle in his hand and more flashes exposed the space between them and then salt and pepper bandit disappeared and Isaac turned to see tall bandit push away from the car and there was another explosion and Isaac pressed the trigger again and then again and the 1911 stopped moving and the tall bandit leaned hard against the fender and he fell over and Isaac dropped the magazine and slammed home another and then there was just he and Dixie.

Dixie held her own pistol, pointed down at street bandit who was motionless and bleeding from the rounds she put into the man’s chest.

Bob and Nancy were running for the door as other people inside the restaurant were yelling and pushing for the door while the piano player and the viola player huddled against the wall and Jim and his look alike son held pistols of their own and tried to clear a path to the street as people stumbled away from the restaurant.

Isaac let out his breath and took a deeper one.

“Fuck.”

Dixie suddenly sat down in on the curb, oblivious to the kicking and panicking horses.

“Are you okay?” asked Isaac, pushing away the terrified horse to protect her from the wild-eyed animal.

Dixie looked up at him. “You had them shot before I could pull the trigger.”

“Are you okay?”

Dixie nodded, then shook her head. Isaac made sure tall bandit was dead. He checked salt and pepper, and found the man was breathing in short, hard gasps. He clutched at the pavement of the broken street, trying to find purchase, as if clawing at the concrete would ease his pain. Isaac leaned down and put his hand over the man’s nose and mouth, the man’s eyes went wide, and he feebly tried to pull Isaac’s hand away. In a few moments, it was over. Isaac stood and went to Dixie. Isaac gathered Dixie up in his arms and carried her away from the curb while Bob and Nancy stared at him.
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