Cooper; new stuff added 08/29/2018

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by WendyPlains » Sun May 15, 2016 5:33 pm

I'm really enjoying this story. It's kind of nice to see people grappling with the post-apocalypse without having to worry about undead corpses rushing at them every which way.

One thing that most post apocalypse stories have in common is the lack of stuf and the competition for it. It makes no sense to me that, since as the population has been so greatly reduced, there wouldn't be tons of food, hardware, tools, guns and ammo (to name but a few) just lying around for the picking. There are millions of stores, huge warehouses and supermarket depots, not to mention millions of houses chock full of stuff (most people have a at least a small pantry and there are those who have huge stocks of preserves and canned food). So I would think it would take years and years to deplete all the supplies to be found within a reasonable radius around a small community. Imagine how much stuff you could collect going through every house just in your neighborhood? Tools, bedding, furniture, blankets, kitchenware and clothing alone would be found in huge quantities.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by doc66 » Tue Jun 07, 2016 12:35 am

WendyPlains wrote:I'm really enjoying this story. It's kind of nice to see people grappling with the post-apocalypse without having to worry about undead corpses rushing at them every which way.

One thing that most post apocalypse stories have in common is the lack of stuf and the competition for it. It makes no sense to me that, since as the population has been so greatly reduced, there wouldn't be tons of food, hardware, tools, guns and ammo (to name but a few) just lying around for the picking. There are millions of stores, huge warehouses and supermarket depots, not to mention millions of houses chock full of stuff (most people have a at least a small pantry and there are those who have huge stocks of preserves and canned food). So I would think it would take years and years to deplete all the supplies to be found within a reasonable radius around a small community. Imagine how much stuff you could collect going through every house just in your neighborhood? Tools, bedding, furniture, blankets, kitchenware and clothing alone would be found in huge quantities.
Thanks for reading, I'm glad you like the story! Here's what I hope is not a too long winded answer to your statement/question.

I think that is a yes and no.

I think the biggest problem would be the competition for those goods, and then the expiration of those very same goods. In this particular story, people haven't disappeared as they seem to do in many PAW stories; most of Cooper and Jessica's neighbors are exactly the same as they were preFall. They've even added people to the fold. David, who lived in the City, Leticia and her family who also came from the City to escape the riots and troubles there, Sanjana, Boone, Heidi, Jacob, all have added to the stresses of providing in a world where the trucks no longer run. There was a die off in this world, mostly older people and those who need medications to survive, and a flu did tear through the population, which even if only 15% of the population is infected, it would bring a country to a standstill, according to some projections by the CDC. 15% infection would cause almost an additional 40% decline in the workforce as people stayed home to care for the sick or simply stopped coming to work out of fear. That's a 65% decline in the workforce. The remaining workers would be overwhelmed. So for the most part, the real problem is getting the warehoused items to the places where the people are once that happens. "They" keep saying we're three days away from starvation when the trucks stop running. Probably more like three weeks, but once the facilities no longer produce, the temperature controls are gone, spoilage might be a major problem, at least in my mind. As for guns and ammo, yeah, it's out there, but in reality, it's not a large percentage of the population who hold a major part of the weaponry in the US, about 30% roughly. As for the ammo, while there are millions of rounds out there, a large percentage of it is shot up at the range at any given day. Honestly, very few gun owners probably have more than a few hundred rounds of any one kind of ammo at any time. Most might not even have that much (outside of the people here.)

Yes, shovels and blankets and all that will still exist, in a situation such as this one however, those are going to be horded by the people still living in those houses. I see a lot of movement of people in this world, in the beginning, and then as the gas ran out, the food was less accessible, people ended up staying where they could. In this story, anyway, there's still lots of people around, they just aren't as mobile, and therefore we "see" them less in the story line. I tried to convey that the people were still there in the sections with the market in Washington, rescuing Jacob in Hartsville, going to trade for corn, the trip to get salt; all those were an attempt to show people still existed, though it may not have come across that way.

The places the characters find with things in them and no people, I envisioned them as summer homes and second/vacation places. Like the house that Boone and Heidi and Jacob move into. A forgotten, out of the way place where people never came much anyway. The house Cooper and David found abandoned was based on a second home I am familiar with and they looted that place until the truck couldn't hold any more!

So anyway, that's some of my reasoning behind the stories and my justification for why I write it like I do.

Again, thanks for reading, I'm in the middle of three stories right now, one of them is this one, I hope I have something done soon, on something.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/03/16

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:19 pm

So this has been kicking around in my brain for a little bit and fighting with the story I wanted to write on Cooper first. In light of that, there are a couple tales in between this one and the last one I wrote which are uncompleted, but can be finished if I decide to go a little back and forth in time. I might do that. Or we might find out what's next... I don't know. Either way, enjoy this one.


“You know we paid a lot of money for that view,” said Cooper, gesturing out at the valley below the homestead, bathed in the colors of the setting sun.

“Yes we did,” Jessica leaned into his arm. “It’s nice sitting here. We haven’t done this for a long time.”

“We built those French doors and the gallery windows just for this.” He paused and took a drink of the homemade wine. “Just so we could throw open those doors and feel like we’re on top of the world.”

“Just so,” agreed Jessica.

“Are you making fun of me?” asked Cooper.

“Maybe a little.”

“I just want to see the valley sparkle with light—real light, not campfires,” qualified Cooper.

“That would be nice,” said Jessica, “I’d like to do laundry in the machine again.”

“We can, if they really get the electricity up and running again.” Cooper shifted on the couch and sighed. “The New government sounds like it has things in hand.”

“Do you really think there’s a new government? Or even vestiges of the old one?”

“I don’t know, Jess,” admitted Cooper. “We’ve got our own little government of sorts here, and in the valley, in Washington, so why not?”

“But do you think that they were really the National Guard Combined?” asked Jessica. “That there is really such an entity?”

“They sure acted like it,” shrugged Cooper. “You find something that didn’t jive?”

Jessica took her own turn to shrug. She furrowed her brow as if she were trying to come up with an answer that would make sense to her. “I don’t know. It’s been so long without anyone or anything from beyond the next mountain or the big valley, I guess I doubt that there’s honestly anything left.”

“I get it. The declarations seemed plausible from what a reforming Government might do, but at the same time, it all sounded really Libertarian compared to our last administration,” Cooper said, feeling out just where Jessica’s trepidation might come from. In the past four years, they had come to rely on “those feelings,” and at least listen when the other brought up concerns. “At least they weren’t coming in to impress people into service.”

“Well, let’s see what kind of compensation is forthcoming once some of us start working for them to fix the power lines; it might be just as bad.”

“Cynical,” laughed Cooper.

“I’ve read a lot of classic Science Fiction in the last four years, and romances. Come to think of it, I’ve read a lot of everything,” mused Jessica. “But my point is that most of the time when someone says, ‘Trust me, I’m with the government,’ there’s a lot of abuse somewhere.”

Shaking his head, Cooper offered Jessica the wine glass. She took a long sip and settled back into his chest. The darkness was coming in fast, once the sun dropped behind the tress and the mountain ridge to the right of where they sat, there would be a final flare of color and it would seem as if the entire valley was caught under a riotous flash from an ancient Graflex camera. Chuckling to himself, Cooper had to admit Jessica was right; they’ve read a lot of random subjects with the use of the World Wide Web. It was even to the point that their electronically stored music was starting to get buggy. They could still listen to it with the devices powered up to the house solar system, but unless it was constantly charging, it was worthless. Cooper missed plugging into the headphones and getting lost in the music. But records had been rediscovered, transforming beyond the skinny white male set to the rest of the world—as long as they could dig up a record player and a battery to play it. Or a windmill generator, or a water powered wheel, or a bicycle generator, people had become inventive with their resources. Records had gotten Cooper more involved in his music, he tended to listen to the music in a different way, listening to the song and the measure, and preparing himself to make the decision of letting the record just bounce on the end groove or flip the disk over. He liked it, but then again, sometimes, you just had to have that straight jam that only came streaming on your phone.

The group which had come into Washington and set up camp on the outskirts of town, claimed to be a part of the National Guard Combined. A unit made up of all services, ranked under local Guard commands, and sent out to first off, establish communication lines between communities and local governments, secondly, turn the power on where they could, Thereby opening radio communication between individuals and the local government appointed task force. The group had arrived and set up tents and a Welcome Center, where they handed out Comfort Kits consisting of bars of real soap, toothpaste, a box of bandaids—little things to make life seem momentarily better and recall a better time. Cooper and Jessica had gotten theirs, as had David and Leticia. People with babies got a packet of baby powder and diapers—store bought reusable ones and disposable. Leticia and David were overjoyed to not have to use torn rags any longer.

Cooper could see where the gift giving might be a smoke screen for other—perhaps nefarious—activities. They could be set to move in and conduct a quiet coup after cataloguing the area’s resources. Taking the wine from Jessica, Cooper took a suddenly tasteless swallow. He missed talking to El Jefe. The old man would have some sort of Old School Mexican saying handy, and shrug in his the way he had, before saying something that would make everything fit together. But he was six months in the ground now, his family fractured from the pain of his passing and internal jealousies which hampered their every step.

Rancho de la Montaña was hurting. By the next year, if things did not change there, it would not be producing to even half its potential. The loss of el Rancho to the mountain was immeasurable for the food it produced, the work around the ranch for the neighborhood provided them with barter for food items or winter firewood, or even the service of a rooster or boar pig, the fruits of those labors could be traded in exchange for services elsewhere. The success of Rancho del al Montana was of concern to everyone as it was a huge part of their economic system.

There was something the National Guard Combined did for the neighborhood. The NGC started offering silver dollars and other precious metal coins as payment for food and services. After the word got out that legal tender was once more legal tender, silver coins were dug out of every nook and cranny. Even two dollar bills and the Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea dollars were accepted by some people. Although there was little more than faith to back it up, people seemed happy to be able to hand over a few coins or bills for services rendered rather than try and figure out what both parties considered a fair trade of goods and services. If the electric came back on, the NGC would have won quite a few hearts and minds.

“Are you going to the meeting tomorrow?” asked Jessica.

“I am,” said Cooper. “I’m going to hook up the llama and ride that thing down into Washington tomorrow morning, and if all goes well, be back up here by nightfall.”

“You’re not going to take a horse or even fire up the gassifier?”

“You know that I do not like horses. Even though I’m somewhat used to riding that beast, I would prefer to ride in the cart and let the llama pull me along.” Cooper leaned up to refill the wine glass. “And the truck needs brakes. It needs tires, and I’d be afraid to take it down the mountain.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Not yet,” admitted Cooper. “However, I’d rather save wear and tear until we can hunt down some new breaks and tires that someone, somewhere, has an old manual tire changer and a way to pump it up that doesn’t involve a bicycle pump.”

“So you’re going alone?” quizzed Jessica. “You know the bandit trouble has moved this way.”

“It should be pretty safe; there hasn’t been an incident in weeks, and that’s probably because people have heard about NGC being in the area,” Cooper gave a laugh. “Maybe people think the laws back in town.”

“Or maybe there hasn’t been an incident in weeks because people haven’t been making themselves targets?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Don’t make those your famous last words,” warned Jessica.

Cooper knew better than to try and make a quippy come back. He simply said, “Okay,” and leaned back against the couch once more with the glass. “There’s no one to go with me,” admitted Cooper. “David is off with Leticia and the baby to visit Sanjana and Lyle, Heidi and Boone are off on a stud call and Jacob can’t leave their ranch.”

“There’s Not Tim.”

“I hate to ask him.”

“He’s love to go with you; you made a friend for life when you saved his from that bounty hunter and then found him a place with El Jefe,” reminded Jessica.

“I’ll go up early in the morning and spring it on him,” decided Cooper, hating to admit that the reason why he never asked Not Tim was for precisely those reasons. It wasn’t that Not Tim wasn’t interesting, he could be in his own way, but it was for the reason Not Tim always had to thank Cooper for everything at least once whenever they were together. Cooper supposed that he had an inkling of understanding when it came to how grateful he would be to someone who basically kept him from the hangman’s noose. But after a while, a little could go a long way.

“You could walk up now, we could walk up now,” suggested Jessica. “We could take a lantern and be ready if it got dark.”

“Yeah, alright,” agreed Cooper with a sigh. “That way if he does go with me, he can leave his house and meet me here.”

“So you’ll take the horse and buggy?”

Cooper ignored her and stood up. “Let’s go before it gets too dark.” He helped her to her feet. “When is the boy coming home?”

“Tomorrow morning,” smiled Jessica. “Mike and Carrie are going to keep him for a slumber party.”

“He’s awful young….”

“He wouldn’t be if it were grandparents right? Well, I think of Mike and Carrie as surrogate a Aunt and Uncle. So it’s close enough,” reasoned Jessica. “Besides, since Sanjana move to the other side of the valley, we have no one to babysit when we have a whim.”

“That’s why you miss Sanjana?” he half-teased.

Jessica frowned at him and gave him an almost joking slap on the arm. “No. But admit it, it was nice to have someone we could trust and help watch him around.”

Cooper couldn’t disagree. He held up his hands as if in surrender. “It just sounds like you thought of her as a servant.”

“Don’t let her catch you saying that,” warned Jessica. “And you know better; I think Sanjana is fierce and not a woman to fuck around with.” She gave him an impish grin. “But admit it, it was nice to be able to have day sex every now and then.”

Cooper grinned. “I admit nothing. Let’s go. If we sit around here any longer we’ll be walking in the dark.”

“Clear skies tonight, we’ll be fine.”

“Stop being difficult, woman.”

“Let’s take a bottle of wine with us,” decided Jessica, ignoring his commanding tone.

“You carry the bottle, I’ll carry my rifle.”

“Deal.”
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:20 pm



Copper woke to the dog barking and knocking at the door. He groaned—just a little—when he realized he had a wine headache. Laying still for a moment, he listened as the dog whined and growled and barked, going over the events of the night before.

He and Jessica had walked home under a three quarter waxing moon. It was a clear night, and had cooled off considerably to the point where both wished for a long sleeved short of a light jacket. The light of the moon shone through the trees, casting blue illumination in patches along the roadway and the forest floor around them. There were the sounds of tree frogs, insects and even night birds called back and forth. Cooper remembered as they walked by their neighbors houses, if the dwelling lay close to the road they could hear the conversations and sound of the family being carried across the night air. Being tipsy from sharing the bottle of wine with Not Tim and his wife, Cooper and Jessica had paused, sometimes giggling to eaves drop on their friends.

The Millers were playing a board game of some kind, their laughter and arguing filling the dark spaces past the open front door. Ralph and his sons played musical instruments, the strum of a guitar, a soft pick on a banjo, and the airy piping of a flute caused the two of them to dance a waltz for a moment before moving on. Bill and Mary were teaching their kinds the lyrics to different TV theme songs, explaining what each show was about as if their children had never seen TV. When they finally got home they had collapsed into bed, looking out over the valley from the loft bedroom, falling asleep as the moon began to drop behind the trees.

It had been a wonderful evening.

The knocking came again.

“Are you going to let Not Tim in?” asked Jessica, finally.

“Yes,” confirmed Cooper. “I am. Right now.”

He sighed and swung his legs around, his feet hitting the floor and making the dog start barking again when he realized that Cooper was stirring. Cooper called for the animal to be quiet as he pulled on his sweat pants and a t shirt. Just in case the person pounding the door turned out to be someone who was not Not Tim, Cooper grabbed the Glock 23 from his night stand and padded his way down the spiral stairs, through the kitchen and to the mudroom where the dog was looking at the door and making noise. Cooper shushed the animal with a pat on the head while he peered through the blinds at where Not Tim stood with his rifle and a daypack slung over his shoulder.

“Come on in,” said Cooper, opening the door for the man. “Sorry, I forgot to wind our alarm. We stayed up a little too late last night.”

“No problem,” assured Not Tim. “I’m just glad you invited me along.”

Cooper waved a hand at the kitchen counter and the stools there. “Have a seat, I’ll get dressed.”

“No hurry,” smiled Not Tim.

Cooper climbed the stairs, leaving Not Tim to lay his rifle on the counter and bend over to pet the dog. Jessica opened an eye as Cooper slipped into his worn jeans, the last of his smart wool socks and a light long sleeved shirt over the t shirt.

“You want me to make you something to eat?”

“Stay in bed,” Cooper told her. “I’ll grab some corn muffins and honey. Don’t we have some of that ham left?”

“There’s some, and I think a hardboiled egg.”

“Okay.”

“Love you, thanks for letting me sleep in.”

Cooper leaned over and kissed Jessica. “I hope to be home tonight.”

“You better be, your son is back today.”

“Didn’t you carry him for none months or something?”

“Damn near killed me too,” murmured Jessica into her pillow. “Just be back tonight if you can.”

“I love you,” Cooper told her. She whispered the words back to him and was pulling the pillow over her head even as she spoke.

Cooper went down the spiral stairs and into the kitchen where Not Tim sat waiting. He thought about making tea, but did not want to start the fire long enough for the pot, settling on some of the cold tea from the day before, offering a cup to Not Tim. The other man shrugged in acceptance, listening to the rooster crow as Cooper poured the cups full. Sighing, Cooper knew he should be out there taking care of the chickens, the goats, the horses, the llama, but he also knew without something in his stomach, he would be grumpy and worthless. So instead of doing what he should do, Cooper pulled out the basket of corn muffins, the honey, and found the ham Jessica spoke of. He built several sandwiches, wrapping some of them in a cloth for lunch. He asked Not Tim if he needed anything, and the man shook his head, saying he had eaten breakfast and had his own lunch prepared.

Packing the items and a water bottle into an old book bag, Cooper ate his breakfast standing up at the counter, sipping on the tea while he and Not Tim talked about the day.

“The meeting is supposed to be about getting a gang together to go over to the old hydro plant and see what the damage is,” informed Cooper. “The Captain says that if the works aren’t in too bad of shape, it shouldn’t take much to get it producing again.”

“What about all the poles and wires that have been used for other things?” asked Not Tim.

“I don’t know,” admitted Cooper. “I guess we’ll find out. Supposedly, the New Congress has been doing this all over the southern part of the state. Repair what they can, get power to whomever they can, and then move on.”

“Seems kinda patchwork,” mused Not Tim.

“Do what you can and fill in the gaps, I guess.” Cooper finished the last breakfast muffin. “Let’s get the animals taken care of and then get on the road. I should have had it done—.”

“I’ll help,” said Not Tim. “It’s the least I can do.”

They gathered up their gear, Cooper picking up his AK and the double magazine pouch he used for travelling, following Not Tim out of the homestead to the barn where they let the chickens out to roam free, feed the horses and the goats and the llama released them into the pasture, pulled out the horse cart for the trip onto town. The cart was basically made of tubing which had been bent to for a foot well and support a bench large enough for two people. The wheels were twenty inch rims with rubber tires, and there was a little basket behind the seat for carrying small items, like their backpacks and a gallon jug of water, and the feed bag Cooper intended to take for the horse. Grabbing the horse that Jessica had named Molly, Cooper and Not Tim had the animal in the harness and moving down the driveway in no time, settling back to enjoy the still coolish morning.

The horse made better time than the llama would have down the mountain road. Cooper noted with sadness that the pavement of the road was starting to crack and the shoulder was crumbling away into the ditch. There were weeds growing up through the cracks, and soon, probably by the beginning of the next year—unless they could stem the decay—the road would be down to just a few ribbons of pavement connected by gravel and grass. Cooper thought back to the winter when they had barely managed to run the gasified truck down the mountain and the troubles they had with the snow and ice. Running the truck along the path before them might prove just as challenging if let go for another year or two.

As they travelled, they passed a group of the neighbors on foot—Cooper thought of the men as such because they shared the mountain with them—and they drew the carriage to a stop for a short chat. The men recognized them and when they reached the buggy, shook their heads.

“I sure wish I had one of them to help me along,” exclaimed one of the men. The others laughed, as did Cooper and Not Tim.

“Well, you work out a deal with Heidi, and you can,” said Cooper.

“That woman,” said the man, almost making it a curse. “She’s got a mean streak in her and won’t give an inch.”

Cooper let the remark pass. “You all going down to the meeting?”

“Figure we might as well,” the speaker told him. “See what these government people have to say. Can’t hurt.”

“They ain’t government,” said another.

“Aww, Poulsen,” said the speaker. “You’re just suspicious of everyone who didn’t live up here during the hard times.”

“You aint?” asked Poulsen.

“What do you think, Mr. Cooper?” queried the speaker. “These guys from the real government?”

Cooper shrugged noncommittally. “Government or no, if they can get the power back on, I’m willing to take a shower in the hot water.”

Everyone chuckled at the joke, but Poulsen frowned through his mirth. “As long as the hot water is the only thing we’re taking a shower on.”

The other men booed him down. Cooper changed the subject.

“If you all are willing, I’ll lighten your load; you can hang them day packs and satchels off the cart and I’ll carry them into town for you.”

“That would be nice” said the speaker, pulling off his own day pack. “Just don’t eat my lunch on the way down.”

They arranged the packs, lashing them to the rails of the seat and stowing them in the basket. Cooper and Not Tim bid them goodbye, promising not to eat lunches and that they would be waiting for them in town. As the horse drew away from the men, Not Tim turned to Cooper.

“You think they are Government?” asked Not Tim. He smiled at Cooper’s sharp look. “Mary and I have been talking about it since the word came up from Washington. If there is a New Congress, that means there’s a President out there, someone we never got to vote for, so are these guys really from a legitimate government, if they are from a government at all?”

“That’s a lot of questions all rolled into one,” pointed out Cooper.

Not Tim laughed. “Right, let’s take it one at a time; do you think they are representing a government?”

“I don’t know,” responded Cooper. “They talk the talk, they seem to have answers. They have uniforms—.”

“Gangbangers have uniforms too,” said Not Tim. “What about this New Congress?”

“They say that the New Congress is made up of surviving members of the old Congress,” pointed out Cooper. “So in a way, I guess that makes them elected at some point. I have no clue what the State of Emergency rules are for something like this. And the president would be, if not the one we elected, then one of his cabinet members, which in succession, makes it legal until we can hold elections, doesn’t it?”

“I never even knew we had a Secretary of Transportation,” Not Tim said. “Let alone what their name was. Hell, you could have made up a name and I’d have believed you.”

“Maybe they did,” countered Cooper.

Not Tim gave him a sidelong glance. “So you think they are fake?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Not Tim settled back on the bench. “It reminds me of that movie with Kevin Costner—the one where he fakes a government for the mail.”

“It was a better book,” smiled Cooper.

“As long as we don’t get dragged into a war with another valley or something.”

“Let’s see if they can turn some of the power on, first,” said Cooper. “I was serious about that shower.”

Not Tim gave a low noise of pleasure and closed his eyes for a moment. “I’d like to have a whiskey on the rocks.”

Cooper couldn’t disagree with that.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:22 pm

Oops
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:22 pm

Once in town they were surprised to see that the place was teeming with people from all over the valley and even the other mountain. It seemed that the word had gotten out further than he expected. There were tents and awnings set up all along the street, and the market place was open, doing a brisk business. If Cooper had known there would be a market, he would have had Jessica come down with him, they could have taken the bigger wagon and perhaps bartered away some of the excess bounty from the garden.

Or sold it. Money was back in fashion, remembered Cooper.

He and Not Tim stay with the cart until the neighbors made it to town to claim their packs. There were enough people in town that Cooper had never seen before, there was some trepidation about leaving the belongings of the just hanging unattended off the cart. While they waited, Cooper filled the collapsible bucket with water from the community pump and watered the horse, then tied off the feed bag and let the horse munch on some of the grains. Not Tim amused himself with trying to guess where people might be from based on the cut of their beard and hair. It was rather a fun game, since the services of a barber usually fell to the person with the sharpest scissors or a pair of hand operated shears.

There were what Not Tim referred to as the Bucket Heads; people with longish hair chopped off at the bangs, the men with beards squared off at the bottom, nearly even with the length of the hair. The bowl cut seemed to be popular as well, and the beards those men sported was neat and tight to the face. Not Tim referred to them as CCR cuts. Some of the men had opted for nearly shaved heads, with flowing beards; in another time the hipsters would have been proud of the style. Another group had high and tight cuts, but long locks on top and Not Tim called them the lumber jacks. He had no reason for the term, but it seemed to be in line with the naming game, so it stuck. Cooper asked him what they would be called on their side of the mountain, and after a moment of thought, Not Tim decided they would be the surfer dudes, since they had longish hair and one of the woman at El Ranchero set up shop once a week to give shaves with a straight razor.

When the three men finally made it to town, they were all amazed at the number of people who were wandering the streets.

“It’s like the Fourth of July,” mused the speaker.

“If we’d have known there was a market set up,” said Poulsen, “I’d have brought down my furs for trading.”

“We’ll have to see how long people plan on staying,” agreed Cooper. “I have some garden surplus to unload.”

Poulsen looked over at Cooper. “What do you have?”

Cooper grinned. “What do you have?”

They laughed and fell into conversation about the garden surplus and his furs, agreeing on a price that both felt comfortable with, which meant neither had to make the trek down the mountain again to a market which may or may not pay off. As they bartered, the men walked over to the elementary school—the largest building in town which could hold the community—and paused in the overgrown yard waiting for the school doors to open. The meeting was to be held in the gymnasium, which had suffered over the years from lack of use, but the place had been cleaned up enough that the bleachers could be pulled out for use and the stage once more set with chairs and a podium.

It seemed they were all waiting on the arrival of the National Guard Combined. The people were not disappointed.

The NGC arrived with the noise of mechanical roar proceeding them. The company was led by an old Jeep, the olive drab hood of which was emblazoned with an American star, the sight of which made Cooper feel a little nostalgic since it had been years since he had seen a military vehicle of any kind. Behind this was a Humvee, decked out in desert sand colors and toting a big Ma Duce in the top turret. Next in line was an eight wheeled Stryker APC—decked out in European theater green, and behind that another camo-colored Humvee roared. Cooper had heard that the entire unit was powered by burning pure alcohol, the production still hauled behind a tanker truck and was currently cooking excess grain bought and paid for by the New Congress with silver dollars as fast as the still could make fuel. Cooper admired the precision in which the drivers rolled the vehicles into the broken parking lot, parking the monster vehicles in a tight, protective V near the doors of the school. The occupants boiled out of the interior of the machines, their uniforms a collection of the various services, but all wearing the OD vest of the NGC. It was apparent that the men and women had operated together for some time.

The gathered crowd was hushed at the appearance of the military. It had been more than a year since they had seen vehicles moving like this under their own power, other than the gasified conversions Cooper had brought to the mountains and valley, and the noise of them was enough to cow even the fiercest of the mountain people. The big .50 did not necessarily point at the people, but its presence was noted. The Stryker bristled with smoke generators, a 40mm grenade launcher, another .50 caliber and a 7.62 machinegun. Its mere appearance was enough to give pause to the people who had forgotten that there were threats greater than a well-aimed hunting rifle. The engines rumbled for a moment and then there was silence. A deafening silence that spread over the school as the dust from the machines entrance settled.

Finally the Captain stepped forward, his uniform that of the Army, but for the straw cowboy hat he wore. He had an MP5 slung across his chest, and a pistol in a thigh rig; he looked more like something a movie costumer would present than a bona fide ranking officer. The Oakley sunglasses hide his eyes as he swept the crowd before him. He finally nodded once and smiled.

“Looks like we’re late,” he joked in a deep voice which carried out over the crowd.

His remark brought nervous laughter.

“It’s alright people,” he said. “I know that my next words will bring fear into the hearts of some, but they are true; we’re from the government, and we really are here to help you. Let’s go inside and talk about getting some lights on around here.”

Cooper and Not Tim followed the others into the gymnasium. They walked past the vehicles, some people reached out and touched the sides of the military transports, running fingers along the chipped armor, touching the block lettering and numbers, testing the rubber of the tires; so many of them had never thought there would be a United States again, and now it was too hard to believe there might be representatives of the Nation once more taking an interest in the mountain valley. Cooper cast a wary eye over the soldiers and their equipment, noting that while they were all well-armed and the uniforms seemed in good shape, like the rest of the word, their gear had seen wear and individuals had added personal touches to their equipment. Non-issue knives were in abundance, many of them had pistols which would have never passed standard issue muster tucked away behind belts or in shoulder rigs. One or two of the more disreputable looking men—ones with ear rings and even a nose ring—sported sawn off shotguns either on single point slings or in homemade holsters tied down Mad Max style or in back holsters with the grips jutting over their shoulders. They reminded Cooper of pirates, or rather what he thought pirates might look like. He noted also that while they had not regulation gear, they were still squared away and carried themselves with an air of authority.

A muscular blonde woman with sergeant’s strips came over when she saw Cooper giving the men a curious look.

“Morning, sir,” she said, nodding to him as she stepped unobtrusively into his line of sight and blocking the pirates from his view. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine, sergeant,” said Cooper.

“You have some questions?”

Not Tim had stopped with Cooper and was on alert, which Cooper appreciated, but knew that if it came to a fight, the two of them would lose in a rapid manner. The men behind the sergeant also became tense. Cooper was sure to keep his AK slung low to avoid any appearance of aggression.

“Interesting bunch,” noted Cooper. “I didn’t know that piercings were allowed.”

“Well, things loosened up after everything fell apart,” admitted the sergeant. She pushed back her hair, exposing her own multiple pierced ears and motioned to her own nose piercing. “It became more of an issue of how do we stay alive, rather than how do we look, for a little bit. But I’m sure you know all about that.”

“I do,” agreed Cooper. “It’s just surprising.”

“And they’re Navy,” shrugged the woman. Cooper laughed to show there was no harm and asked her what her name was. “Tanya Schultz.”

“Schultz?”

She grinned to show she was aware of the unfortunate similarities she shared with Hollywood. “Schultz; but I know things.”

“Well, thanks, Sergeant Schultz, I guess we’ll be going in now.”

The woman nodded and gave him a two finger salute before turning to the men behind her. Cooper was surprised that when she barked for them to disperse, they quickly made themselves scarce.

There were about a hundred people in the gym, sitting in the bleachers, sweating as the big space began to heat up with the normal perspiration of the multitude and a lot of questions. Most of the questions had to do with the New Congress and the man the NGC claimed was the new President. The Captain was very patient with the questions, and seemed to have answers for everyone—to some extent—and laughed when he did not have an answer replying with, “I don’t have an answer for you, I’m pretty far down on the food chain.”

Cooper noted that the other NGC members, while making a big show of force when they drove up, were conspicuously absent from the meet, save for a couple of gun toting rank and file, Sergeant Schultz, and a man who looked like a construction worker. Cooper had to wonder where the others were, if they were, like Poulsen might surmise, mapping the town for an invasion, or if they simply had the time off to wander amongst the populace and spread good will. He smiled at the thought since the three pirate-looking men didn’t seem to have much good will to spread.

The Captain brought the conversation around to the old hydro plant. This, he explained, was the center piece of bringing some order back to the mountains and the valley. Some people out right laughed at his choice of words, and someone—Poulsen, Cooper suspected—outright shouted that it was pretty orderly before their arrival. The Captain nodded at this.

“True,” agreed the Captain. “It’s not bad here, in this valley, and on the slopes of the nearby hills. But what about the next valley? Not so much there. Before last year, there was a motorcycle gang controlling everything, drugs and theft was more rampant than it had been Before. Now that the gang no longer controls that valley, the crime has started eking its way here; I know you have bandit troubles. I know that there’s been some murders in places where the rest of you don’t go much, or can’t go much, that your friends and neighbors who are isolated from the rest of you live in fear; New Congress, the National Guard Combined—President Johnson—we all want to put an end to that. One way; get the power back on. With power, we can put phones back to use. With power back on, you can light that back yard, see what’s beyond your porch, you can do the mundane things like turn on the heat on a cold day, run a fan when the noon sun beats down on your roof.

“I know things are not going to be perfect,” the Captain said, looking around the quiet room. “We know that. But what New Congress is trying to do, what our President is trying to do, is start to make things better for you. Start to bring our communities back together so that we can protect each other and provide some sense of a world beyond what you can see.”

“Now, what we need to do, is we need to find out who worked at the hydro plant before it was shut down fifteen years ago, we have to get people together to do things like go to every single house in the valley and on the mountain, turn off main breakers, check power lines, make notes of what needs repairs right now and what is still standing. We need people who would be willing to work the plant, fix what’s broken.” The Captain was now off the stage and walking among the people of New Washington. He would stop occasionally and look directly at someone, making sure they were engaged and listening, and most of all, agreeing with him. “Our engineer, Lieutenant Griffith, he’ll be the one heading up this venture. He’ll be the contact for everyone. If I can, I’d like to get this ball rolling, those of you who worked up there, or know someone who worked there, please, get with Lieutenant Griffith over against this other wall, near that table. He’ll get names, and assignments for you. Everyone else, if you would, I’d like to make a list of where you are from—here in the valley, what mountain, and then we can get you all to spread the word about shutting down those breakers, taking note of line repairs, and the million other tasks which need done.”

“And while we’re doing all these things, who is going to work my farm?” asked someone.

The Captain turned to the owner of voice. “This isn’t happening tomorrow. This isn’t happening next month. It might be next year; I don’t know. But it will happen. It will happen because we all want it too. The last place we brought power back to it was five and a half months in the making. When we get the power back on here, you’ll be able to talk to them. We’ll give your community a communication set so that you can start getting in touch with the people around you who have the same capabilities.”

“Will we be able to talk to this New Congress? To the President?”

“Not directly, not right away, unfortunately,” sighed the Captain. “There’s still to many blank spaces, too make holes in the network, but one day, a year from now, two years, as we get those holes patched, fill in those spaces, you’ll be able to have a voice in our government again.”

There were more questions, more almost answers, more talk of materials and man power and payment for services—mostly payment in the form of silver and trade and credit toward future goods. Cooper tuned most of that out; he had not even been on the mountain for when the small co-op had its own power plant. Before a conglomerate came to the valley and they were forced to tie into the national grid. Around him the gathering was breaking up. Not Tim leaned over to Cooper.

“So, it sounds like other than turning power off on the mountain, we’ve got almost nothing to do with this; neither one of us were here before.”

“Truth,” said Cooper. “I think we should just go up and tell them that we’ll have the power off along our road and a couple of neighboring roads, eat our lunch and get out of here.”

Cooper and Not Tim waited in line, speaking to those around them about the summer crop, when it might rain, projects that were being put off for other chores and what electricity might mean to the valley. When it came to Cooper and Not Tim, the NGC private sitting at the table asked their names in a bored voice. He had a large USGS map spread out on the table and was marking names on grids with a pencil. Cooper gave the man his name and the road he and Not Tim lived off. The man referenced the road name on a map legend, cross referenced the grid coordinates and found Coopers road. He was about to write in Cooper’s name when he stopped and seemed to nod to himself.

“Mr. Cooper,” said the trooper. “Could you step over there—,” he pointed to the bleachers where there were a couple other people sitting and standing. “—the Captain wants to talk to you.”

Cooper paused a moment to get a handle on the sudden feeling of fear. What could the National Guard want with him? It was as if he had been called to the office as a teenager—or worse yet—the police suddenly showed up at his front door and “wanted a word.” Clearing his throat, Cooper asked the man why he needed to stand apart from the others?

The soldier shrugged. “Above my pay grade, sir. Probably just wants to know about stuff in your neighborhood.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Then you don’t,” said the man in a bored voice. “You’re still in America. Do whatever the fuck you want.”

Glancing at Not Tim, Cooper looked to the man for advice. Not Tim shrugged. “They can’t eat you.”

Cooper gave a short laugh and nodded. “Go back out to the buggy, see if you can find Poulsen and the rest. Kinda let people know what’s up?”

“Can do,” assured Not Tim.

The private was marking down Cooper’s name in the grid and had already moved on to the next person. Cooper wondered if he were being a little paranoid; after all the soldier hadn’t seemed overly concerned if Cooper left or not. He seemed to have been relaying a request and that appeal was contingent on Cooper’s cooperation, rather than any kind of strong arm on the part of the NGC. Still in all, there had not been any kind of authority outside what they had made themselves in so long, any demand or entreaty by a force such as what they saw with the NGC seemed to be an affront. They had made it this far, did they really need governmental oversight from an entity which had not shown its face in years?

Cooper walked over to the bleacher and the other people nodded to him.

“I see they got you too,” joked one woman. Cooper recognized her as being the matriarch of a collection of farms on the other side of the valley. Heidi had done some trading with them; horses for goats or something, and Cooper remembered that the two women had butted heads during the exchange. Not that it was difficult to disagree with Heidi, she knew what she wanted and drove a hard bargain to achieve what she wanted. Cooper smiled and tried to dig the woman’s name out of his memory since they had only met a couple other times in town on market days. “Kate Barker,” she reminded him. Then she grinned. “Folks call me Ma.”

Cooper smiled with her. He knew there was a significance behind the nickname but he could not recall what it was. “Cooper.”

“Right, you’re friends with that little she-devil with the horses,” said Ma Barker.

“Yes.”

One of the men nodded. “Oh, yeah, that little girl is pure fire and ice. You never know what you’re going to get with her.”

“Heidi can be difficult.”

“Mike Thompson,” said the man, shaking Cooper’s hand. “I live next country road over from you. I heard El Jefe died. Sorry to hear that, he helped us survive that first winter.”

“He helped us all,” agreed Cooper.

More introductions were made around and another man came over and joined them. They made small talk as the gymnasium cleared out. The mayor of New Washington joined them with one of the town council. He smiled a tired grin that did not make it to his eyes.

“If you all don’t mind, we’re going to go over to my house and meet up with the Captain there,” invited the mayor.

“What’s this about?” asked Ma Barker.

“The NGC—the Captain—wanted to meet with the community leaders,” said the mayor.

Cooper watched the man’s face as he spoke. It was clear that the coming of the NGC had been a strain on the man. Cooper wondered what kinds of demands the military had been putting on the town’s leadership. Obviously, the military had been using the town as a resource to gather information about the surrounding populace. Cooper wondered why he had been named as a leader, rather than someone from El Ranchero de Montana. He had to laugh at himself; if he could not come up with the name of a single person to be in charge at the sprawling farm, there was no way the mayor would have been able to. It was sad that the complex had fallen into such disarray leadership wise. El Jefe had made overtures to Cooper about taking over the duties of leadership, and while Cooper had been uncomfortable with the role thrust on him, the rest of the mountain had accepted El Jefe’s decision almost by rote, and other than the infighting at El Ranchero, others had looked to him for advice and help. Cooper often wished that there had been someone else the old man had looked to, this was one of those times.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:24 pm

They followed the mayor and the woman from the town council lead the small group out of the gym and down the bustling street toward the mayor’s house; a ranch style home on a tree shaded lane. Useless cars sat on flat and rotting tires, front lawns had been turned into gardens, and back yards were now the pastures for chickens and goats and cows. The mayor lead them around the side of the house to the patio at the rear where there was a swimming pool, now filled with water lilies and algae, in the depths, Cooper saw several fish swimming among the lilies. An electric pump hummed off to one side, the small solar panel which ran it was tucked unobtrusively away behind a cluster of decorative rocks. In the middle of the pool an aerator made a rainbow infused fountain, filling the air with its trickling sounds. Chickens scattered on their arrival and a goat behind the rough fencing bleated at them.

“Do you mind if I check out your pump?” Cooper asked the mayor.

The mayor ushered Cooper over to the contraption. “It was the smartest thing I did Before things fell apart,” admitted the mayor. “My daughter wanted to do the solar pump for a science project, and I let her rig up the pool, thinking that at the very least it would cut down on my electric bill. Who knew?” He showed Cooper the filtration system. “The sand system we also use to filter out water for drinking; I run it through the pool sand filter and then again through a charcoal filter gravity box my kid made. I can filter about 20 gallons a day through it. It saved us all, here on the block, when the water tower stopped working. She set up people all around town with the gravity water filters.”

Cooper was impressed. “I’ve never seen this system; but up on the mountain we had springs nearly every other house. Water purification hasn’t been an issue.”

“It’s simple,” explained the mayor. “Build a box with a fine mesh at the bottom and a catchment bowl, you put in charcoal—which you can make yourself—then sand that’s been sterilized over a roaring fire, then pea gravel that’s been treated the same way, and you simply pour the water in the top and as it filters through the pea gravel and sand and charcoal, it comes out the bottom clean enough to drink.”

“That’s amazing,” admired Cooper. “I wish I had known about this three years ago.”

“There’s a lot of things we all probably could have been sharing,” admitted the mayor. “We got caught up in trying to live. Hopefully that will be different now.”

Cooper agreed with the man. “What about the pool?”

“Catfish and trout from the local river. It took a couple of seasons to get it right, but now, we’ve got fish enough that we can trade up and down the block.” The mayor motioned to the backyard. The trough out there is part of the system; as long as the water level stays above the three foot line in the pool, I’m good.”

“Could your daughter come up and share this with us?” asked Cooper. “It’s always good to have a backup system.”

The mayor looked pained. “We can send someone up.”

“Did I say something wrong?”

Giving Cooper at tight smile, the mayor sighed heavily. “My daughter was an asthmatic. She got the flu this past winter and never recovered.”

“I’m sorry,” Cooper said, not knowing what else he could say.

“It was a tough winter,” the mayor opined quietly. “There was little anyone could do. She left behind a daughter—my granddaughter lives with us now. Her father was in the city, he never came home.”

The hurt in the old man’s voice was a barb to Cooper’s soul. So many had lost so much; Cooper counted himself lucky those around him had not fallen ill or been injured in untreatable ways. He did have family out there somewhere he had not heard from since Before, but the distance and passage of time had simply made Cooper feel as if those member of his family were simply away on an adventure of their own. He rarely thought of them as being anything but surviving, like he himself had. To do anything else was only travelling down a dark path which could consume a person. Changing the subject, Cooper casually inquired, “How did the NGC get my name?”

Looking pained, the mayor motioned over to the picnic table where the others were seated. “I gave it to them. I know you might think that I sold you out, but the truth is when they showed up, it was like having a relief squad come in from FEMA or something. When they started asking questions, it was pretty natural to just give them information since they came in official-like.”

“Why my name?”

“Last fall, Apollo came down to see me, he said if something should happen to him, you were the man to reach out to on the mountain,” the mayor shook his head. “I don’t know why he picked you, but he seemed to know what he was doing.”

“Apollo?”

The mayor laughed. “El Jefe; you didn’t know his name?”

“He was always just El Jefe, to everyone.”

“I knew him back when he came here with four hundred dollars and a beat up pickup truck. He picked up odd jobs doing whatever was needed. Hell, I even worked for him one summer, we cleared the path for the driveway to El Ranchero, one of the hardest jobs I ever worked. El Jefe was a good man, he helped me earn the money for my first year of college. That was a long time ago.”

“I guess I never thought about how the ranch got started,” mused Cooper. “I just assumed it had always been there.”

“Well, forty years is a long time,” laughed the mayor lightly. “I was in my teens when I started working for El Jefe.”

They reached the picnic table where the others were relaxing, speaking lightly of the plans they had for crops, gathering wood for the winter, making a salt run before fall so that the slaughter could go smoothly and the meat put up for winter. Salted meat and smoked meats had become a staple of the area; Cooper had even perfected what he considered to be a passable prosciutto ham. While his pigs were not fed on parmesan whey, Cooper had managed a fairly good six month cured ham, and had a few cuts which were almost a year in the making. Thompson was talking about his still, and how he was working on perfecting a vodka-like alcohol he hoped to be able to trade within the next year.

“Of course, if the governments back, there’s no telling when we might be able to get the real stuff,” considered Thompson. Ma Barker laughed at that.

“Son, there ain’t no vodka coming this way any time soon, not from the government,” she scoffed. “We’ll be lucky to have electricity this time next year. If at all.”

“What makes you say that?” asked Thompson.

“Listen,” outlined Ma. “First off, they’ve got to be sure the hydro planet can even be used at all; those turbines haven’t run in years; if they are even still up there. If they are, the generators are the next problem; what if all the works have seized? That means tearing them apart to fix them, and finding the parts to fix them. If the generators work, then the transformers have to work, then the lines have to be intact.” Ma sat back and shook her head. “We’re in for another long winter with tallow candles and going to bed early.”

“We could get lucky,” said Thompson weakly.

“And I could shit out a mile of copper line,” guffawed Ma Barker.

The voice of the Captain cut into the conversation. “If you could do that, I’d appreciate it; copper line would come in handing for so many things.”

They all turned to see the Captain and Sergeant Schultz and the engineer, Lieutenant Griffith step through the gate to the back yard followed by a tall woman with curly dark hair, and dressed in miss-matched digital camo with a tan beret perch at a jaunty angle on her head. She carried a short barreled M16 and had a pistol strapped to her leg. Her blue eyes took in the gathered and she nodded to herself once, moving over to a spot in the shade, leaning back against the house so she could see the backyard. Schultz joined her and they huddled up, pulling out a hand rolled cigarette, which they lit with a wooden match and passed back and forth. The odor of the tobacco made Cooper remember when he used to smoke and he suddenly wanted a beer and a cigarette in the worst way.

The Captain saw Cooper’s gaze go to the cigarette and he smiled. “Been awhile?”

“Years,” admitted Cooper. “I quite years ago, before all this. But every now and then—.”

“I think that’s from Tennessee,” said the Captain. He looked to Schultz to confirm his guess. The woman nodded.

“Tennessee and Kentucky. It’s a blend.”

“You’ve been to Tennessee and Kentucky?”

The Captain smiled. “Not personally, but the New Congress has opened up a couple of highways and trade is getting through.”

“How bad is it?” asked Thompson. “You know, in other places?”

“Like here, some places are worse than others,” said the Captain. He motioned to the picnic table. “But right here, we like to focus on your community, and how we can help you get reestablished back into the Nation. Lieutenant Griffith needs a few things, and we like to enlist the help of the community.”

“How so?” asked Ma Barker. “Back in the day, whenever the government said they wanted help, it usually meant they wanted you to hand them something while they looked important.”

The Captain flashed his smile. “It’s probably the same now.” He cast a gaze at all of them at the table. “Listen; I admit we are limited in what we can provide you with. Much of the reclamation is going to fall on your willingness to work to reconnect. All we can do is provide technical support; at this moment, it’s in the form of Lieutenant Griffith and his ability to reengineer the hydro plant, we hope.”

The mayor spoke. “Did you find enough workers from the plant to help that goal?”

“We have a half dozen people who worked there,” said the Captain. “Two of them were even on the engineering team which was responsible for keeping the technical end going, which is better than we had hoped for. There was so much movement to find better places to live and survive, so much death, that when we find people, it’s a small miracle. Plus the length of time the plant was closed hasn’t helped us. But with luck and some good technical skills, we can open it back up.”

“And a time frame?”

“You nailed it, Mrs. Barker,” admitted the Captain. “A year might be too soon to hope for.”

“What about in the mean time?” asked Ma Barker. “Do we all hold our breath? Do we wait for you to violate the Third Amendment? Are you going to ask nice?”

Everyone else looked at her curiously. She made a rude noise under her breath. “Are you all telling me you don’t know the constitution of the country you live in? Quartering soldiers during a time of peace; it’s a violation for them to force us to take care of them.” She looked at the Captain. “Or did New Congress get rid of that one?”

“The Constitution stands,” assured the Captain.

“So what exactly do you need from us?”

“Straight to the point, Mrs. Barker,” nodded the Captain. “In addition to help to get the hydro plant running, we are going to need information on the surrounding countryside, guides to warehouses, help with obtain materials, liaisons to other communities; numerous things which are all too many to simply sit down and talk about in this one sitting. What this is for, is an opportunity for me to sit down with all of you and ask for your help—as leaders in the community—to pave the way for New Congress and the NGC, and the Renewed United States Government here in your area. If you all agree to that, my troops and I will continue to billet out at the abandon motel and we will do everything we can to help you grow and become a part of the world again.”

“If not?”

The Captain smiled sadly. “If not, we have our orders from the New Congress to pack up and move on to the next community, do what we can to help them—if they chose to cooperate—and in ten years, or twenty when the rest of the Nation is back together, someone will come along here and announce to you that you have no choice.”

Thompson glanced at everyone else. “I’d rather not wait.”

Ma Barker sighed and sat back for a moment, her eyes searching the Captains for some kind of clue that there was more to the tale he was telling. The mayor cleared his throat.

“New Washington has already held a town council about this,” he announced. “As a town, we’re extending an invitation to the Captain and the National Guard Combined; we want to be a part of any efforts to reform and reconnect the Nation.”

“So this is just a courtesy call,” grunted Ma Barker. “It’s going to happen with or without us?”

“We’d rather have you on board,” confessed the Captain.

“You want us to help you,” mentioned Cooper. “Which is all well and good, but we’re living in a 19th century world at the moment; there’s crops to be raised, livestock to tend to, preparations to be made for the next season; this is not just a world where people can give up time to assist you on a quest, which frankly, might lead nowhere after months of labor and lost time on our end. What compensation is there for our time, our efforts?”

“You are correct in all you say,” agreed the Captain. “How we compensate you is for every day we take you away from what you need to do, I have people who will stand in for you, or if they are needed as well, we then come to your farm, your ranch, and we pitch in and help you make up for lost time in any way we can.” Looking around the table, the Captain shrugged. “We have worked like you all have; chopping wood for the winter, planting crops, harvesting them, herding livestock, slaughtering for the coming winter; we are not just shooters any longer. We have experienced the same hardships and lives you have. The difference is only that we did so wearing a uniform.

“In addition, we can help you all make stills, convert engines over to alcohol burners, get you back on the road and in the fields with tractors to make your job easier.” The Captain nodded to each of them. “This is not just us coming in and demanding your time and efforts; we will bring things to the table of our own. We can also offer security for the area, that you all simply don’t have the time or experience to provide.”

“Cooper does pretty good, up on that mountain of his,” muttered Ma Barker. “I think Thompson can attest to that.”

Thompson nodded in agreement. While the complement made Cooper feel more than a little proud of his abilities, he managed to shrug through his pride and motion to the two women standing in the shade and smoking.

“I have managed to keep the peace,” said Cooper. “But it would be nice to not have to worry about what’s going to be happening down the road or if there’s someone lurking in my barn.” He nodded to the Captain. “With a dedicated group to patrol and take care of problems, I know I’d rest easier. Think of the bandit troubles we’ve been having since the MC disbanded and Hartsville pretty much collapsed.”

“What do we, as a community, have to pay for that kind of protection?” asked Ma Barker bluntly.

“We will need supplies,” said the Captain carefully. “And we are going to have to come up with an exchange rate which would make us all comfortable. The silver we have is not going to last forever, and while giving the coins monetary value and putting it all back into circulation is wonderful, there are going to be those who will not accept the coins; so our services would be worth and exchange rate in food and other supplies.”

“What have you gotten from other communities?” asked Ma Barker.

“We try to develop exchange rates for each community individually,” the Captain glossed over the particulars. “Over the next week or so, I hope to be able to negotiate terms we can all agree on.”

“What do you want right now?” asked Ma Barker, looking over at the mayor to gauge just how far the town had gone in entering deals with the NGC.

“A handshake deal that over the next several days, you’ll think about what you would want terms to be, and then you return for a community meeting where the conditions are agreed upon and ratified.”

“So we’re coming up with a treaty?” asked Cooper.

“You can call it that,” said the Captain. “New Congress would rather us work with the community to develop relations and have rapports which are agreeable to all, rather than bypass a municipality and force New Congress to come back with ultimatums. It’s in everyone’s best interest.”

“So, you’ve had to bypass places?” said Cooper.

“We have.”

“One week?” Cooper asked.

“Five days,” clarified the Captain. “During that time, Lieutenant Griffith and a small team will go to the hydro plant and see just what it might take to get it running; the people who used to work there, they will go as well, and we are going to start seeing just what it is going to take to get it back on line, if it can be done.”

“If it can’t?” asked Cooper.

“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” said the Captain. “But if it can’t, we will still work out some arrangement which will bring you back into the Nation and get you started on the road to communicating with New Congress.”

The gathered meet each other’s eyes, a silent conversation seemed to be happening while the Captain and his people watched. Finally, Ma Barker sighed and shrugged, announcing, “I’d like to have a washing machine again.”

The Captain smiled his smile, nodding to each of them. “Five days from today? Good, we’ll all have ideas of how we can make this beneficial for all of us. Welcome to the Reclaimed United States, folks, you’ll not regret your decision.”

“Let’s hope not,” muttered Ma Barker, shaking the man’s hand.

Cooper took the man’s hand in a firm grip. The man’s hands were like everyone’s these days, hard, and strong from the hours of labor which were needed on a daily basis to stay alive. The Captain nodded to him, his eyes bright but unreadable. The man released Cooper’s hand, but not before he slapped Cooper on the shoulder.

“I’m looking forward to working with you,” said the Captain. “We’ve heard some good things about you and your people.”

Cooper watched him move away and had to wonder what the man had heard, and more importantly, how he had heard anything at all. The statement seemed to contain more than just the last several days’ worth of talking to the mayor; it held the hint of many weeks of gleaning tidbits about the mountain, the valley, and Cooper. He was a little unsettled as he watched the Captain work the small crowd. The gathering started to break up and Cooper made his way back to the area where Not Tim waited with the buggy.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 12/26

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:25 pm

Cooper and Not Tim ate lunch with Poulson and his bunch, talking over the main points of the NGC speech as well as the census which they seemed to be conducting of the people in the valley and the mountains surrounding the town. Poulson was sure they were actually taking a count of the number of people who could defend the area; preparing for an invasion. The men laughed at Poulson, but it was an uneasy laugh. They bantered back and forth until one of the men spoke up with, “Honestly Poulson, what do we have that they could possibly want?”

Poulson got a dark look on his face. “There’s a lot of resources around here. But most of all, we’ve got a pretty good set up of civilization here. We actually had elections last year in town, and there’s a bunch of people talking about doing some kind off county election. You don’t think that what’s left of Hartsville wouldn’t give their eye teeth for something half as stable as what we got here?”



Yeah, but an invasion would just kill all that—.”

“Would it?” demanded Poulson. “I know that if they came in here with a bunch of armored cars like they’ve apparently got, I’d just nod my head and look at all of you and say ‘I told you so.’ I’ve lived through too much shit to through away my life. It’s one thing to take a shot at someone robbing your hen house, it’s another to take on a military that’s got machineguns and armored cars when you’re riding a mule. Ask the German’s at the end of World War Two.”

“I’d fight ‘em,” said one man. “My father didn’t leave Syria to have me fall under the rule of a military government.”

“What would you do, Cooper?” asked one of the men.

Cooper looked uncomfortable. He had not really thought about the NGC being The Bad Guys. Not to say he blindly trusted them, but on the other hand, they were well organized and seemed to speak with an authority larger than the unit that had shown up at the town just a week ago. He supposed he would have to see how he felt when the time came, but he couldn’t give these men that answer, as he did not want to appear indecisive.

“I’d sic Heidi on them,” he said slowly, drawing out the punch line to get the desired laugh. His words broke the tension and saved Cooper from having to commit to something without having enough information to make a clear decision. The conversation veered away from the NGC and to more mundane subjects such as the crops, the harvest, the new batch of beer that was being made around the valley, and the grapes which were proving to be a bonus crop for flavor this year; the wine to come from this harvest would be a fine vintage.

After lunch they walked back into town to buy or trade for a few things their families needed from the merchants and artisans living in New Washington. Cooper was picking up a still; he wanted to try his hand at moonshine, and there was a local family which had perfected cooper wielding, and were making Cooper a pressure pot for his adventure. It wasn’t a large still—five gallons—and they could get it back on the buggy with some creative lashing. Both Cooper and Not Time picked up ten pounds of flour, and a batch of candle wicks made from wool. They agreed to carry up the gear and things that Poulson and his friends bought and drop them off at the fork in the road so that the men would not have to hike the goods up the road. Cooper knew he was overloading the horse, but if worse came to worse, he and Not Tim could walk beside the buggy if the going got too much for the animal.

The trip home was uneventful, and it was late afternoon by the time Not Tim and Cooper took the harness off the horse and Cooper rubbed the animal down. Jessica and the boy came out to the barn to help. Not Tim declined the invitation to come in for tea, stating he still had chores to complete before night fall. Cooper waved to the man as he disappeared down the driveway and then went to finish his own chores. He and Jessica teamed up to make sure the animals were fed and watered, the stalls were clean, and the goats milked. Jessica had been working in the garden all day, hoeing the weeds out of the rows and harvesting what needed to be culled out of the plants. Soon they would have to start canning to preserve the crop for the winter ahead.

After a meal of cold chicken and cornbread, fresh salad and melon, Cooper and Jessica played with their son until they deemed it time for him to go to bed. Once he was down, Cooper and Jessica retired to the deck each with a glass of wine traded from Lyle—Sanjana’s beau—from what he called his Special Reserve. The man had managed to find several bourbon casks somewhere and was making what he called a mountain port. Copper felt this batch could have aged longer, but Lyle had wanted to try some of it and he had pulled the bung on one of the casks. The sun was blazing across the tops of the mountains and the long day was making Cooper feel drowsy.

“So,” started Jessica, “Tell me about the Army men.”

Cooper laughed. “There’s women there too; mean looking ones.”

“Army persons.”

Cooper told her everything he could remember about the day, finishing it with the conversation he had with Poulson and the rest from down the mountain, and how he said he would turn Heidi loose on them.

“They don’t stand a chance,” grinned Jessica. Then she sobered. “Seriously, what do we do if they are the precursor to an invasion?”

“Okay, Poulson,” groaned Cooper. “I didn’t know you had family up here.”

“No really,” said Jessica. “What if they’re not from the United States government? What if there’s no New Congress or President Johnson?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Cooper, for the second time that day. “I guess we cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“Well, let’s hope they get the power on before they decide to subjugate us,” decided Jessica. “I don’t know if I could take an invading force and continue to do all my laundry by hand.”

They laughed together and sipped at the wine, enjoying the sunset across the valley.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/03/16

Post by teotwaki » Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:51 pm

Thanks!
My adventures and pictures are on my blog http://suntothenorth.blogspot.com

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/03/16

Post by 91Eunozs » Fri Aug 05, 2016 9:18 pm

That was great... Thanks!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/03/16

Post by bodyparts » Sat Aug 06, 2016 1:22 pm

thanks for the new stuff , excellent as always .

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/03/16

Post by SNAFU-M1A » Wed Aug 10, 2016 5:12 pm

Awesome story Doc! Can you tell us what happened with Sanjana? It sounds like she met someone & moved away?

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 08/03/16

Post by doc66 » Wed Aug 10, 2016 9:53 pm

SNAFU-M1A wrote:Awesome story Doc! Can you tell us what happened with Sanjana? It sounds like she met someone & moved away?
I am actually "going back in time" right now and writing that story.

I'm also writing the "next" story to the current post. It might be a bit, but it's happening.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by doc66 » Fri Jan 20, 2017 3:42 am

This part takes place before the last one I posted. Sometimes stories happen that way. I wrote it over the last several days. Hope you enjoy it.

They only had a few LED lights on in the cabin. Outside the big windows moon light reflected off the snow and filtered through the sheer curtains they had hung to cut down on the drafts near the tall panes. They should have had heavier drapes, but as Jessica had pointed out, covering the windows made the cabin feel cave like without the tall windows overlooking the valley. Cooper sat on the floor of the homestead in comfortable clothing consisting of what he liked to call, house pants, a fleece shirt, deer hide slippers lined with sheep’s fleece from Not Tim’s new herd, under a heavy fuzzy bathrobe he had worn since Before. The robe was getting thin in spots, but it was so comfortable, Cooper overlooked its shortcomings. Jessica called it The Dude robe. Cooper admitted he probably looked a lot like The Dude when he was wearing it. Since the temperature had been dropping, they had been gathering more and more in the homestead, spending nights around the fire and working to keep just one space warm, rather than two or three. Sanjana and Leticia played chess on the low table in front of him, each of them seated on big pillows as they gazed intently at the board. The pieces in front of them seemed to be scattered in a haphazard manner, but as each woman made her move, the other would make a noise of appreciation. Behind him, Jessica was curled up on the couch reading a trashy novel she had traded for at the last farmers market in Washington. Her face was screwed up in concentration as she followed the improbable plot across the wilds of a frontier America. David was stoking the fire in the wood burning stove and picking up the kettle containing corn beer from the stove top. They also had a fire going in the small fireplace for effect and lighting.

Because of the snow fall, the solar power system for the homestead had only been charging for short periods of time; and the charge had been steadily dropping over the last few days. There was a time when they would just have kicked on a generator to power the system during the short falls of sunlight. But they had run out of useable gas some time ago. They had talked about converting the generator over to run on gasification like the truck, but they had not managed to get have it done before winter howled over the mountain top. Now, rather than a taking it over in the truck—because of the condition of the tires on snow—the generator would have to be pulled by a horse on a sled. The snows had been steadily falling for the last few days and they had just decided to wait.

David brought the kettle over to Cooper and held the warm pot, offering Cooper a warm up. Cooper nodded and picked up the big ceramic mug and held it for the other to poor. The steaming beer filled the air with its sweet scent and Cooper was reminded of the two stories he had been told about the beer. Tesgüino was a traditional beer brewed by the Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre, or the sacred beer drank by the Aztec priests, mixed with maize and the blood of their sacrifices, depending on who he asked and what mood they were in. Either way Cooper figured he was upholding some kind of ancient tradition by partaking of the brew. Sanjana made a move as David refilled her cup, and Leticia shook her head, holding out her cup as well.

Jessica looked up and thank David when he refilled her mug. She motioned with the historical adventure romance she was reading. “If our nation had been founded any way close to this narrative, we would have all died of syphilis faster than we could have populated the country.”

“Lots of fucking?” asked Leticia, not really looking up from the board.

“Lots of fucking,” agreed Jessica, as she paused in her reading to take a sip of the warm beer. She made a face. “This batch is really grassy tasting.”

“Better than that creamed corn batch that one time,” pointed out David, sitting on the other end of the couch with his own beer.

“I liked that one,” disagreed Jessica. “I liked that kind of malted-creamy flavor.”

“Well, we’re getting a lot of different flavors since Paul started trying out different recipes with the corn mash.” David took a long drink and sighed as he set held the mug in both hands. “I like the stuff from el Rancho best.”

“Don’t we all?” laughed Cooper. “But since with the winter looking harsh, el Jefe has cut down on the production of beer to keep a reserve for feed. If Paul were smart, he would save up himself.”

“He doesn’t care,” said David. “He doesn’t have the stock to take care of, and he had a bumper crop of grain this year.”

“He could trade it to el Jefe—or us,” said Cooper.

“He did,” smiled David, raising his mug and taking a sip.

“You know what I mean,” said Cooper.

David nodded. “I do. But it was his corn. He could burning in his fireplace if he wanted.”

“What would you do with it?” asked Jessica.

Shrugging, David pretended to be absorbed in the chess game. Just when Jessica was about to pick up her book, thinking he was finished with the conversation, he spoke.

“I don’t know,” said David. “Maybe keep it back, maybe trade it, hell, maybe make beer and corn pones. But I guess my point was, it’s his corn. If he thinks he has enough to get the cow through the winter, that’s his choice.”

“We’re all pretty independent,” countered Jessica. “And I think we all agree that you can live the life you want as long as you don’t harm others. But don’t you think he should put it back in case? Maybe to help out someone in lean times?”

“Don’t you think having freedom means that you have to have the freedom to fail?”

“It just that we’re on the edge so many times, when there’s a surplus you put back against the leaner moments.”

“What do you think he’s trading on with this beer?” asked David. “My bet is he has enough corn and more to make it to spring. My other bet is that he’s hedging his corn beer against the possibility that there’s going to come a day this winter when he’s tired of doing something, like chopping wood, and has given someone a quart or two for a favor later.”

“But others—,”

“They’ll have to find their own corn beer,” said David. Cooper couldn’t help but laugh. Jessica shot him a warning look and Cooper hide his face behind his own mug of corn beer. “Listen, we—and for a long time, el Jefe—really have helped people survive up here on the mountain. We’ve handed out our surplus when new families came up here, or when people fell short, but honestly, Jess, we’ve been living like this for five years.” David shook his head. “If you’re not together by this point, you should probably go ahead and die off already.”

“That’s harsh,” said Jessica.

“Who here on the mountain would not be ready?” asked Sanjana, looking away from the board.

Jessica gave it a moment of thought. “Carol and Butch; they are getting old enough that working to prepare for a winter might be tough and leave them short.”

“Short of what?”

“I don’t know, wood,” said Jessica. “What if he didn’t get enough deer this year?”

“We would help, sure,” said David. “It’s what we do. But, while it’s a civic responsibility to help out elderly and children, I think, we have to draw a line on worrying about other people. I mean, how many times have we been shot at trying to help out other people?”

“A few,” agreed Jessica. “But what does one have to do with the other?”

“It has to do with we’ve gone above and beyond for others, and very few times, with the exception of el Jefe, have we gotten very little other than a hearty thank you from everyone else.”

Jessica nodded. “Point taken.” She sat back and sipped the beer. “Don’t get me wrong, I like having the beer; it’s like trading for wine down at the market; you have to, I just don’t want someone to go hungry.”

“They won’t,” assured Sanjana as Leticia made a move and quietly announced, “Check mate.” Sanjana pulled herself away from the conversation to frown at the chess pieces.

Pointing at Sanjana, David nodded in agreement with her statement and picked up his own book—this one about wilderness survival in Canada—and spoke as he ducked behind the pages. “It’s not like we’re going to let anyone go hungry, you know that.”

Jessica picked up her own book and tucked into the novel. Cooper leaned against the couch and scratched the dog’s belly. The animal sighed and gave a groan shifting a little to put Cooper’s fingers closer to his itches spot. Sipping on the mug, Cooper knew if the snow kept up, soon it was going to be a matter of not if they would share, but how much they might have to share. In the back of his mind, Cooper was already making a list of people who he would check on at least once a week. He would have to set aside a day from his normal work around the homestead to make the journey up the road and back.

“Play something,” requested Jessica to Cooper.

“These strings are about shot,” said Cooper, reaching for one of the acoustic guitars.

“Like we’re going to notice the difference,” said David, setting aside his book.

Cooper nodded to one of the other guitars, instructing David to pick it up. “Have you been practicing?”

David laughed. “Some.”

They made sure the two instruments were close to being in tune with each other and Cooper let David strum out a series of chords and find a rhythm he was comfortable with. As he did so, Cooper began to pick out a tune from the strumming and lost himself in the music for the evening.



Cooper paused in his work, letting his back stretch out from the work of swinging the axe. Butch was gathering up the pieces of split wood and making a pile near the door of the small frame house. They had a nice stack building, enough for several days, as long as the weather did not make a change for the worse and send the temperatures plummeting. Butch paused in his stacking and leaned on the wood pile, obviously glad Cooper had taken a break of his own.

“Thanks for coming down and checking on us,” mentioned Butch, again. “Me and Caroline were getting tired of talking to each other; you broke up the monotony for us.”

Cooper grinned and laughed out a cloud of breath. “I can understand; me and Jessica are lucky enough to have a few other people around to keep from killing each other. I was glad to come up here, besides; they chores fall off in the winter and I had time to kill, so I thought I’d come up and check on a few people.”

“It’s good you did,” acknowledged Butch. “As this winter goes on, I’ve been wondering just how I was going to keep up by myself. Caroline can’t get out in this weather like she used to, so I’m stuck taking up the slack, and I’m not as spry as I used to be.”

Cooper set aside the double bitted axe and picked up the pieces of wood he had split. He carried them over to where Butch stood and added them to the pile. “We should get a bucket and gather up the chips too,” suggested Cooper. “It’ll help in starting fires.”

“There’s a five gallon bucket just inside the door,” mentioned Butch.

Cooper opened the door and reached inside to snag the bucket, quickly closing the barrier between the cold and relative warmth of the house. He went over and began to pick up the wood chips and splinters, placing them in the bucket, nearly filling it. Bringing it back to the door, Cooper set it down and rejoined Butch to lean on the wood pile. Now that he had stopped swinging the axe, Cooper was starting to feel a little shill and pulled on his fleece sweater.

“I should sharpen that axe,” said Cooper.

“I’ve got a stone in the shed,” replied Butch. He pushed off the wood pile and lead Cooper over to the small building, his shuffling gait pushing through the snow. Cooper picked up that axe and followed the man.

Butch struggled with the door which was stopped by a mound of snow and ice which had fallen from the roof. Cooper used the axe to break up the ice around the door, and the old man was able to yank it open once the barrier was removed. The light from the open door lit the inside the shed, exposing tools and old boxes and machinery cluttering the space, reflecting off the cloud of dust rising in the air from the sudden gust of outside air created by the door being thrown open. Stepping in, Butch moved to a bench and motioned or Cooper to follow him. Butch pulled a large whet stone from a drawer, and with it a can of light weight oil. He set them down on a clear space next to a vise. Butch moved aside and sat on an old bar stool that was smudged with stains—oil and paint and sweat—giving Cooper room to work. From the large drawer of a beat up tool chest, Butch pulled out a baggy and a small bottle of Jack Daniels. Cooper watched as the old man shook out a couple of cigarettes.

“I keep these in here ‘cause Caroline don’t like me to smoke,” said Butch, digging around in the drawer for a moment. He came out with a box of wooden matches and tossed them next to the cigarettes. He pointed up on a shelf above Cooper’s head. “Get them jelly glasses.”

Cooper did as he was told, handing the man the small glass jars.

“You want a smoke?” asked Butch. “I won’t guarantee they don’t taste like shit, but the pack was unopened when I traded for it this summer.” He splashed some of the whiskey into the jelly jars and pushed the glass and the cigarette toward Cooper.

A reformed smoker of many years, Cooper decided this once he could join the old man. He picked up the cigarette and lit it off the match struck by the old man. The tobacco was a little harsh from being stale, and the smoke lay heavy in his mouth, but the old familiar expansion in his lungs and the slow, boiling rush of the nicotine made him smile for just a moment. Butch raised his jelly jar in salute, and Cooper returned the gesture.

“Thanks again,” said Butch as they clinked the glasses.

“No worries,” responded Cooper, sipping the now rare drink of another time.

Butch sat back on the bar stool and contemplated the amber liquid in the glass. “Who knew this shop bottle might be the last Jack Daniels we’d ever see? I went to Lynchburg once, you know. Me and Caroline took a trip there after the kids went off to their own lives. It was like a visit to heaven. You could smell the whiskey aging in the barrels, wherever you went. They call that the Angels Share—the Devils Cut is what’s left in the wood—and we did a tasting of the finest Jack had to offer,” Butch smiled at the memory. Cooper began to put the axe in the vise while he listened, letting the old man reminisce while Cooper worked. “Then we walked around downtown and ate barbeque and then we drove to Nashville.

“I wonder what’s become of all that whiskey,” pondered Butch. “They said they had four million gallons up in those warehouses.”

Cooper had to wonder what had become of Nashville. He had been there several times, enjoyed the city and all it had to offer. He had a soft spot in his heart for Nashville girls, in spite of what Jimmy Buffet had to say about them. Cooper pulled his thoughts away from his own memories and back to Butch’s recollections.

“Four millions gallons is a lot of booze,” said Cooper, taking the stone to the axe. “That should last a while.”

“They said four years, if they distributed it at those current levels. With what transportation problems we got now, probably 40 years.”

“We should take a road trip,” laughed Cooper.

“I doubt Caroline would let me out of the house for that one,” grinned Butch.

Cooper took a drag on the cigarette and tested the edge of the axe. It seemed fairly sharp, and since it was holding a nice edge, he flipped the blade over in the vise. This edge had a nick or two in it, and Butch dig around until he found a file. He handed it to Cooper and poured a little more whiskey into the jelly jars. Cooper protested, but the old man waved him off.

“This stuff was made for sharing, I don’t come out here and drink it on my own,” said Butch, pulling out another cigarette. “So, enjoy it. I know I am. Besides, you need something to keep you occupied while I bore you with my stories.”

Raising the glass to the old man, Cooper sipped the whiskey and took the cigarette, lighting it off the one he had going. He was getting a head rush from the smokes and the Jack Daniels had started a furnace in his belly.

“I don’t find this boring,” assured Cooper.

Laughing, Butch took a drag off the cigarette. “Caroline does.”

“We should get you two down to the homestead for a night,” suggested Cooper.

“I got chickens and goats to take care of,” waved off Butch.

“They’ll survive a night,” smiled Cooper as he worked the blade. “We bed them down tight before you come, then David and I can come down and feed them in the morning for you so you don’t have to hurry back here.”

“Walking that far in the snow—,” Butch scoffed. “My knees wouldn’t take it.”

“We have a sled for the horse,” countered Cooper. “All you’d have to do is bundle up warm. It’d take twenty minutes to get you to our place.”

“You won’t take no for an answer, will you?”

“Probably not,” admitted Cooper. “We like to have parties. We can get Boone and Heidi and Josh to come up, get a full house going.” Cooper worked out the details in his head while he sipped at the whiskey. He held up the glass. “We don’t have this, but we’ve got corn beer and wine.”

“You gotta convince Caroline,” decided Butch.

“I will,” promised Cooper. He tested the edge of the axe and pronounced it finished. He and Butch smoked the cigarettes down, and with a final salute, drank off what was in the jelly jars before closing the shed up and walking back to the small house, the snow squeaking under foot as they stepped in the cold, bitter air. On the way, Cooper formed his plea for Caroline to join them for a night of festivities.

They bundled up with wool blankets and a thermos of hot corn beer, which Butch took a massive drink from straight away. Caroline was more demure in her drink, but both smiled at the sweet corn flavor of the brew. Leticia snapped the reins and the horse snorted and jerked the sled into movement, making Caroline laugh at the sudden movement and the sound of the bells on the harness. David and Cooper watched them pull out of the drifted drive and onto the roadway before turning back to the house and the livestock.

“Goats and chickens first?” asked David.

“Why not?”

Cooper and his best friend herded the contrary goats into the small, roughly built shed, securing the door after making sure the animals had water which was not frozen over and feed and bedding. The chicken coop was built on the side of the goat shed in order to share warmth, and, Cooper imagined, so that Butch did not have to travel far to complete his chores. The chickens were already settling down on the roosts. Cooper and David gathered up the eggs in the boxes then carried the basket into the small wooden framed house.

The interior was dimly lit. Curtains were pulled tight against the draft of the inefficient old windows, and the barrel stove was working hard to ward off the chill. Bitch and Caroline had pulled their bed into the living area where the stove was, pushing furniture into the bedroom so that the room would not be crowded. The two seemed to be living in the kitchen—where another small barrel made wood stove sat in place of the original stove and oven—and the living room. The rest of the house was blocked off by blankets or doors which had been shut tightly and sealed with masking tape to keep the drafts at bay. The house smelled of old food and stale bodies deprived of bathing. David shook his head.

“We’ve got it pretty good, don’t we?” he said as he placed the eggs on the counter in the kitchen.

Nodding, Cooper bent over the barrel stove and banked the wood, closing down the damper so that the logs would not consume themselves too quickly. “Yeah, Jessica and I designed our place to be comfortable with that wood burner going. We’ve got some chilly places in the house, but for the most part, it’s all pretty well heated.”

“I mean with all of us working together, the food we have set aside, not just the way the house is built,” said David. “Can you imagine trying to keep up a place at their age? It’s a wonder they can even keep ahead of the wood cutting, let alone the up keep of the animals and the garden and canning—.”

“I know what you mean,” said Cooper. “When I came down here the other day, they were nearly out of firewood and Butch was struggling to chop up what they had.”

“We’ll have to check up on them more often,” decided David. “What happens if one of them gets sick?”

“At their age, under these conditions?” Cooper shook his head. “I don’t even want to think about it.” He tapped the stove pipe; a bit of cast off tubing from who knew where that was run out a missing piece of window pane, which in turn was covered with a board cut to fit around the pipe and sealed with paper and cast off rags. The heat from the pipe had discolored the makeshift insulation. “I wonder when the last time this thing was cleaned up?”

“No telling,” said David. “You ready?”

David checked the stove in the kitchen—which had been vented the same manner as the barrel stove in the living room—and after banking it as well, they made sure the door was shut tight and rechecked the goat shed and chicken coop. Satisfied all was secure, the two men hefted their rifles and began to walk back to the homestead.

The homestead was glowing in the fading light of the setting sun. Golden light reflected off the snow and filtered through the trees, making the light cedar wood siding of the house glow warmly in the cold air around it. As they trudged up the driveway, the lights from the interior of the house sparkled through the big windows. Cooper could see that Boone, Heidi, and Joshua were already at the house—evidenced by the threesome’s own horse drawn sled—and wondered how Butch and Caroline would take the brashness of the young woman David and Leticia had rescued over a year ago. Not Tim and his wife—the closest neighbors up the road from the homestead—and their son were also in attendance; Cooper and Jessica had decided to invite as many people who might want to come who were close by and willing to brave the snow. There were a couple drag sleds in the yard, and Cooper wondered just how many people had managed to brave the winter weather to come to the party they were throwing. He and David stepped through the mud room which was overflowing with other people’s boots and coats, the rifle rack was full, and cloth bags and boxes were piled against the wall. Cooper assumed theses had been used to carry foodstuffs and booze to the party.

When he and David stepped into the kitchen, Cooper’s son spotted him and yelled to Cooper, running to be picked up and hugged. The dog followed the boy, barking happily and dancing around Cooper’s legs as he tried to put his rifle down, pick up the boy, and pet the dog at the same time. David came to the rescue and took the rifle from him, easing by him to the gun cabinet in the living area. People shouted greetings to him and Jessica happily joined their son in hugging Cooper.

“I guess we’re throwing a big party,” she said to him after kissing him. She motioned to the kitchen island at the pots of food and baskets of baked goods and bottles of corn beer, wine, jugs of white lightening, and even a couple bottles of Before liquors. Cooper could smell the food and his stomach growled; under the good food smells was the fruity scent of Boone’s homegrown marijuana.

“I guess so,” agreed Cooper. He held Jessica at arm’s length and looked at her in appreciation, reminded again of her beauty. It was easy to forget when he saw her every day, dressed in rough clothing for chores around the homestead. But tonight she accentuated everything he found attractive about her. She was wearing a form fitting knee length dress with floral accents he hadn’t seen her in since his last concert—what must have been four or more years ago—a lifetime it seemed. Her slim body moved easily under the fabric and Cooper felt the stirrings which had made him look a second time years ago. Smiling at the memory, Cooper spun her around to get the full effect. “I haven’t seen that one for a while.”

“It’s hard to justify wearing a hippie dress when you’re mucking out a stall,” grinned Jessica. “Hurry up and get in here.”

Cooper kissed the boy and put the squirming child down so that he could shed his heavy jacket and slip into his house shoes. “Who all is here?”

“Seems like everyone,” laughed Jessica. “You’ll just have to come on and see. I’m going to make sure the stove in the kitchen and the living room are stoked enough to keep the food warm that needs to be warmed.”

Cooper hung his jacket on the overflow coat rack near the door and put on his deerskin slippers. He could hear someone picking at one of the guitars, and a banjo being plucked. Children’s voices cut across the conversation as they chased each other from room to room. Cooper smiled at the gathering; it was good to be surrounded by happy people. He was glad he had encouraged Butch and Caroline to come over, and even happier the get together had become an event. With all the chores, and daily struggles to survive, it was nice to be able to meet with people for no other reason than to just enjoy fellowship.

“Nicely done on the party,” came Heidi’s throaty purr.

Standing from slipping on his house shoes, Cooper smiled at the teenager. He tried unsuccessfully to look past her choice of party clothing. She wore a loose, low cut, silky white blouse with thin straps, which gave hints as to the resources underneath, and a short billowy skirt over knee high boots. Her blonde hair fell around her face from a loose pony tail, sometimes coyly covering her green eyes. She noticed his pause and smiled to herself, knowing the effect she could have on men.

“Thank you,” said Cooper. “It was just supposed to be a little get together.”

Heidi glanced past the island through the open kitchen to the people packed living room. “I think everyone’s had enough of staring at their own people and were eager to see someone new for a change. I know I can only handle so much Boone and Joshua.”

“You certainly dressed for a party,” noted Cooper.

Grinning impishly at him, Heidi smiled coyly. “What can I say? I love a good party.”

“Don’t cause any trouble,” warned Cooper.

“Oh, Cooper,” said Heidi over her shoulder as she sashayed away.

Cooper wished he knew exactly what that meant.

Everyone greeted him when he walked into the living room. Someone pressed a drink onto his hand and Cooper sipped at the fiery liquid falling into conversation easily with his friends and neighbors. It was a simple thing to forget that the world outside had changed drastically from what they had known just three short years ago with the laughter and chatter of so many people enjoying the afternoon. Cooper broke off a conversation when Sanjana glided by him, wearing a colorful sari she had made for the occasion. Her deep black hair was gathered away from her face, but strands fell around her shoulders, seeming to float around her graceful neck. In her hand, breaking all of her Muslim taboos, was a ceramic coffee cup of corn beer. She smiled at Cooper and reached out, giving his arm a squeeze, sending electric shocks through his body.

“Cooper,” she said to him, her voice buzzing close to his ear. “This was a wonderful idea. Tonight, I get drunk with everyone. Allah will forgive, maybe.”

She shrugged and laughed.

“Sounds like you have a head start,” Cooper laughed with her.

“Sometimes, you sin,” she told him. They clinked their drink containers together and drank.

Wandering through the crowd, Cooper found David and Patricia standing off to one side, David with a guitar and Patricia holding the banjo. She seemed to be giving David some instruction on the guitar. He nodded and played several chords in succession. Patricia nodded and gave the banjo an experimental strum. Nodding to herself, she began to pick and Patricia began to sing the words to a Flatt and Scruggs tune. Cooper found himself keeping time with slaps on his leg as the others in the party gathered around to listen. The people made room for the children to dance in the way that only children could. Jessica found her way under Coopers arm, and the two of them joined the kids with their own dance. Patricia finished the song with a flourish, David grinning as he broke his concentration from strumming. The crowd broke into a cheer and Patricia noticed Cooper. She beckoned for him to come up and join them. Cooper shook his head.

“Come on up here, Cooper, you know you want to,” she told him. “How long has it been since you had an audience?”

People shouted and whistled.

“Go, Baby,” encouraged Jessica.

Cooper picked up his favorite guitar and slung the instrument over his shoulder. He gave Patricia a look which was supposed to be stern and she laughed at him in her gruff voice.

“Shit, I’ll bet most of the people here don’t know you were almost famous,” she leaned in and said to him.

“We’ll keep it that way,” whispered Cooper back at her.

“Got all your albums,” Patricia told him.

“All three of them?”

“Three more than I got,” laughed Patricia. “What do you want to play?”

“I’m going to go really obscure,” Cooper told her. “Follow me.”

He gave Patricia a quick break down and gave David the chords he was going to be playing. He started them off on The Swimming Song, elongating the intro so that Patricia and David could find the groove of the music, before launching onto the light hearted lyrics about swimming in the ocean, and in pools, and reservoirs, and about being having fun and living life under warm suns and cool evening nights. He led them around a long solo, where people danced and stomped their feet and clapped, and finally lead the crowd along the last verse, finishing the song simply and clean. People broke out in hoots and cheers and Cooper put down the guitar with a happy smile, waving the suggestions that he keep playing away.

“Later,” he announced. “But this is a party, and I want to be a part of the party, and not the entertainment.” Cooper gestured to the instruments around the room, congas, and bongos, and maracas, and a tambourine, and the guitars he had leaning and hanging around; all of which hadn’t really been played in so long. “Shake the dust off those things, and play.”

Patricia and David strummed out the start of another song as someone took up a drum.

“That was fucking awesome,” said Boone, moving up to slap Cooper on the shoulder. “I didn’t know you could play like that, I thought all this shit was for show.”

“Thanks man,” said Cooper.

“Seriously, where’d you learn all that?”

“I picked it up here and there,” replied Cooper, seeking to escape the other man’s adoration.

Boone nodded. “I play a mean radio.”

Jessica came over and saved Cooper. She led him to where Butch and Caroline were talking with Not Tim. Not Tim smiled and shook Cooper’s hand.

“Nicely done,” said Not Tim. “You should take that act on the road.”

“Probably hard to find a venue these days,” commented Cooper off handedly.

“Remember when you saved my life?” asked Not Tim. “You could have a band like that guy did—what was his name?”

“Steffen,” reminded Cooper.

“Yeah, like that.”

Jessica gave Not Tim a playful push to draw his attention away from the topic of Cooper’s musical abilities. “What would I do, Not Tim? Dance a Go-Go? I think we’re staying right here.”

Cooper shook Butch’s hand and gave Caroline a quick kiss on the cheek.

“That was wonderful,” said Caroline. “I didn’t know you could play.”

“I don’t get to much these days,” said Cooper sadly.

“Thank you for throwing this party and convincing us to get out of the house,” she continued. “Winters can get so long. This breaks things up nicely.”

“I’m glad I could get you to agree to come out.”

“Well, it’s been wonderful.”

“It’s just getting started,” assured Jessica. “Now don’t just sit here in a corner, get up and mingle, there’s food, and there’s wine; I have a feeling this party is going to go on for some time.”

As Jessica predicted, the party went well into the night. Heidi danced with everyone, Sanjana got Cooper to play something Bollywood-like and forced everyone—including Caroline and Butch—to dance what she described as “traditional India party” moves. They ate food and drank, Butch had a round of moonshine shots with “the boys,” and Caroline got tipsy on wine. Leticia danced with Butch, and Boone dragged Caroline out on the floor to jitterbug with her. They laughed and talked about the stupid animals they were raising, the neighbors who couldn’t make it to the party, and made plans with each other to do this more often. The night lengthened the shadows and suddenly people realized they still had to brave the cold to get back to their homes. Those who chose not to head home were given blankets and as many pillows as they had to go around, falling asleep on the floor around the fireplace and the wood stove. Under protest, Caroline and Butch were given Sanjana’s bed and David and Leticia retreated to the A frame for privacy. Cooper and Jessica crept up the spiral stairs to the loft and closed the shutters, blocking the space from the living area below.

“You were wonderful tonight,” said Cooper.

“And so were you,” smiled Jessica.

Cooper ran his hands down her rib cage and to her hips. “How tired are you?”

Jessica turned away from him, letting his hands stay on her hips as she moved, and looked over her shoulder at him. “Depends.”

“Oh?”

“How coordinated you are with zippers and hooks,” she told him, lifting her hair away from her neck to expose the long zipper on the dress she wore.

Letting his fingers play along her back, Cooper found the eyelet holding the dress together above the zipper and lightly unhooked it, pulling the zipper down so that the dress fell away from her muscular back. “I think I go this.”

“We’ll see,” said Jessica stepping away from him toward the bed. “We’ll see.”



Breakfast was all the leftover food from the night before with a cup of real coffee for everyone. Cooper had broken into his stored supplies and brought up a jar of instant coffee they had been saving for an occasion, judging the aftermath of the party seemed to be just the reason they needed. They ate scones and corn pone, and had venison sausages and deviled eggs, there was stew warmed up on the stove, and tamales in a fiery sauce. Cooper drove Butch and Caroline back to their small timber framed house and helped them restoke the fires, bring in the eggs, and milk the goats. He left them with a basket of leftover food and the remains of the instant coffee. They protested at this, but Cooper assured them he wanted them to have the freeze dried crystals; he had more coffee stashed in his supplies. When he was sure they were settled in and the house was warming up, Cooper promised to check on them in a couple of days, and hurried back to the homestead to help with the his own chores.

That night the temperature dropped again and the snows fell, coming behind a fierce wind which cut through layers of clothing and rattled the frozen branches in the trees. When Cooper awoke, the scene outside the windows of the homestead show a world blanketed with a new layer of powder, covering the trees and fields and the valley below, obscuring the small town of Washington but for a couple of the taller buildings which poked through the white like sticks fallen from trees. It was cold enough that the animals refused to leave the shelter of the barn. David and Leticia moved back into the homestead since the A frame was ill-suited insulation wise to battle the cold. More winds howled over the mountain, keeping everyone close to home for several days.

When the storm finally broke, Cooper and David were out in the drifts around the wood pile, attempting to dig the cut wood free of the heavy snow. The animals wandered the pasture, struggling through the open areas toward the woods in an effort to escape the deep layers and find easier walking and perhaps something to graze on.

The party seemed as if it had taken place weeks ago, rather than just a few days earlier, but it still gave David and Cooper something to talk about as they worked. Their conversation made Cooper realize he needed to head over to Butch and Caroline’s home to check and see how they had faired. He mentioned this to David, and the other man agreed to make the trip with him.

“We can use the old skis,” said David.

“They’re not cross country,” reminded Cooper.

“No, but they’ll be easier to move around on than walking.”

“I wish we had snowshoes.”

David laughed. “Ask for a plow while you’re wishing.”

“When we finish up here,” said Cooper. “I’ll let Jessica know what’s up while you dig the skis out of the barn.”

They completed their chores and Cooper went to the cabin while David freed the skis. Cooper informed Jessica and Leticia of their plans, and Jessica filled a Tupperware container with stew and wrapped some left over corn bread in a towel for Cooper to take over to Butch and Caroline. Cooper put it all in his day pack, grabbed his rifle, kissed Jessica and the boy, promising not to be too long.

He snagged David’s .30-30 on the way out the door and met his friend at the barn. They slipped their feet into the cold ski boots, clipped themselves onto the skis, and with poles in hand, began the journey to Butch and Caroline’s home. The skis were downhill skis, and while not as wide as cross country skis, still improved their journey to the old timber framed house. The old motion of pushing across the snow came easily back to Cooper, and soon he and David were gliding across the surface of the snow with minimal digging through the heavy crust. As they got closer to the home, Cooper noticed the strong smell of charred wood. He looked over at David and saw his friend noticed it as well.

“They had to burn some wet wood,” surmised David.

The odor added an urgency to their movement.

When they turned through the break in the trees where the driveway lay, Cooper scanned the through the trees to see if he could see the house. The smell was stronger, and there seemed to be a haze in the air. The smoke he saw was laying low to the ground, and Cooper knew it should not be drifting through the trees in that manner. He peered at the spot where the house stood, and saw only black timbers.

“Fuck,” he breathed aloud.

They broke through the woods around the drive and saw there was little left to the timber framed house of Butch and Caroline. The shed where the goats and chickens were housed was still standing, as was the work shed where Cooper had sharpened the axe, but the house was gone. The trees around the foundation were scorched, with branches blackened and brittle from the fire; the pines needles were brown where they faced the house. The goats and chicken began to set up a ruckus from where they were trapped in the coop and shed.

“Damn it.” Cooper called aloud for Butch and Caroline.

No one answered.

Cooper and David kicked off the skis. They moved to the house, searching along the way for some sign of the old couple. The stench of the house was strong in their noses, and under it, the scorched smell of flesh lingered. Birds flapped away from the structure where tendrils of smoke rose from the coals and hot spots.

“What happened?” wondered David.

Cooper recalled the stove pipe jutting through the window and the way the area around the window was browned. “I think the stove caught the house on fire.”

“Those stupid rigged barrel stoves,” growled David. He cast around on the ground for foot prints other than theirs. “Maybe they made it out?”

“And went where?” asked Cooper. He looked at the shed; it was still locked from the outside.

“Neighbors?”

The two moved around the exterior of the house, looking for a spot not too hot to enter the smoking interior.

“Shit,” said David. Cooper stopped and looked to where David pointed.

The house had collapsed, the fire had burned fiercely, raging enough to nearly consume the entire structure. But to obliterate a human body takes a long fire and a hot one. Under a collection of scorched timber, Cooper could see the remains of at least one body. There was not much left to it—the fire had consumed nearly all of the flesh—but the larger bones had survived.

Cooper felt his shoulders drop and hung his head.

“I think they’re both in there,” whispered David.

Exhaling heavily, Cooper nodded. He felt defeated. “Okay, we need to bury them.”

David silently agreed and moved to enter the house. Cooper stopped him. “Let’s get the shovels, and maybe we can find a tarp or something to put them in; there’s probably something in the shed.”

They found what they were looking for and gingerly tried to enter the house, only to have the flooring collapse under them as they stepped. The two men moved back out of the house and stared at the remains.

“What do we do? I don’t want to injure myself,” said David.

Cooper agreed. “We leave them.”

“Dude—,” protested David.

“Listen, it’s too dangerous for us to try and get in the house right now,” said Cooper. He shrugged. “I rather leave them for now and come back when we can do it safely. Besides, did we really think we’d be able to dig in this?” Cooper shoved the shovel through the snow and struck the frozen earth. “We’d need a backhoe for this.”

“We can make a cairn.”

“We’d still have to dig up the rocks,” pointed out Cooper. He sighed and shrugged. “They’ll have to wait, David.”

“What about wild animals?”

“Short of putting what’s left of them in the shed, I don’t know what else to do,” Cooper explained. “I don’t know how long that shed will keep out critters either.”

“Better than leaving them out,” countered David.

“Are you sure?” Cooper pointed to where they had nearly fallen through the flooring. “That’s not safe, David. No way I’m going to let you risk a broken leg or something to get to them. We wait.”

“This sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“We need to get the animals to the homestead.”

“Goats first,” said Cooper. “We’ll bring the sled back for the chickens.”

With heavy hearts and troubled minds, they set about to rescue the animals.



The rocky cairns under which the remains of Butch and Caroline had been placed were covered with snow. Cooper had stopped by after leaving El Rancho de Montana, simply to visit the old couple, and enjoy a moment of peace. The neighbors had all pitched in to gather the rocks for the resting place of the couple, and they had retrieved the remains once the house had cooled enough to enter it. Not Tim had come up with the idea of bridging the unsafe floor with planks, and the bodies were recovered and interned under the pagan looking cairns almost immediately. All those at the party and several who had not made the festivities were in attendance, and after, they had all gathered once more at the homestead for the wake; a much more subdued occasion.

Cooper kicked out of the skis and wandered the property for a moment, poking into the goat shed and the chicken coop, looking for what, he wasn’t sure. He finally opened the tool shed door and sat heavily on the stool Butch had relaxed on just weeks before. The good thing to come out of the fire was that everyone who had rigged together a barrel stove now had taken precautions to make sure the stove pipes were cleaned regularly and had also doubled the pipes in areas where it passed through walls or windows. It had been expediency which had thrown the barrel stoves together in the first place, and it was only good fortune that kept any other homes from being burned down by errant sparks and overheated stove pipes.

The double bitted axe was hanging from a peg on the wall. Cooper smiled at the memory of using the axe and his conversations with the old man. Cooper sat up and let out an oath. He dug around in the drawers and found the baggy with the cigarettes in it. There were still several left, rattling around in the box. The bottle of Jack Daniels was there as well.

Taking a cigarette out of the box, Cooper searched for and found the box of matches, he reach over his head to the shelf where the jelly jars sat, blew the dust out of one of them and poured a couple fingers out into the glass. Lighting the cigarette, Cooper sipped the Jack Daniels while sitting on the old man’s stool, and gazed at the mounded snow over the pile of rocks where Butch and his wife had been laid to rest.

Once the cigarette was gone, Cooper placed the baggy back in the drawer, returned the bottle of Jack Daniels to its own drawer, and set the jelly glass back on the shelf. He closed the door to the tool shed and stepped back onto the skis, making his way for the homestead, and his wife.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by idahobob » Sat Jan 21, 2017 8:58 am

Thank UUUUUUUU! :clap: :clap:

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People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by bodyparts » Sat Jan 21, 2017 10:13 pm

awesome as always , thank you for sharing !

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by 91Eunozs » Sun Jan 22, 2017 2:55 am

That was great! Well spun tale before bed time...perfect end to the evening.

Thank you.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by doc66 » Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:10 am

Thank you everyone. I really apologize for all the horrible typos and broken sentences! I thought I was catching them, but it's really bad in this story. I wrote it over three really late nights and I guess I just couldn't even half ass edit.

I have an alternate house fire part I want to write... I think I will write it and post it and let you all pick what you like better.

Again, sorry for the shitty, non existant editing. I'll clean it up!
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by 91Eunozs » Sun Jan 22, 2017 4:52 pm

doc66 wrote:Thank you everyone. I really apologize for all the horrible typos and broken sentences! I thought I was catching them, but it's really bad in this story. I wrote it over three really late nights and I guess I just couldn't even half ass edit.

I have an alternate house fire part I want to write... I think I will write it and post it and let you all pick what you like better.

Again, sorry for the shitty, non existant editing. I'll clean it up!
Only obvious typo I saw was "poor" vs. "pour" near the beginning where David and Cooper were warming up a kettle of corn beer. Nothing that took away from the great story and telling of the story.

If a few minor typos are the price of regular updates, it's a price we'll happily pay! :lol:
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Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by Johan » Mon Jan 30, 2017 5:56 pm

Thank You very much!!!
An exellent uppdate as always!
I didn't see much in the way of typo's but...
91Eunozs wrote: If a few minor typos are the price of regular updates, it's a price we'll happily pay! :lol:
Quoted for fact..... :D
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by doc66 » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:24 pm

This story takes place after the very first story, in the timeline, and after the A-frame is started by David. It was written under the influence of redheads and blondes, Jo Dee Messina, Dena Carter, and Cat Beach. So, this little tale is kinda for them.

Cooper and the Llama moved down the rocky path away from the cluster of homes and farms which made up the Town of Butler in the high valley. When he had left the community, there had been clear blue skies and not a cloud in the sky. Above him now were angry looking steel gray Cumulonimbus clouds complete with anvil headed towers rising above the cold front, heralding the coming storm. It was times like these Cooper wished there were still meteorologists out there with the ability to forecast the weather with some accuracy. Now days, one looked up at the sky, judged the air temperature, felt the prevailing winds, and flipped a coin. It was kind of amazing how often people were mostly correct, even without the radar and weather maps and satellites.

Today, Cooper had guessed incorrectly.

He was a good two days walk from the homestead, having come to the community of Butler to do some trading in technical goods for the solar system. Before, Butler had been a collection of tech nerds with summer homes and ski cabins with a few old time farmers and hippies thrown in for good measure. As a result, the residents of Butler had piles of electronics and wire thrown into garages and some of the best marijuana that could be grown in the area. Cooper had packed the llama with two ten gallon casks of corn beer, four jugs of white lightening, and some seeds from some weed they had gotten from the coast a few months ago, and gone up to Butler to see if he could trade for some copper wire, a POV, and perhaps another solar panel. The idea had been to go ahead and get David’s A frame cabin started on its own power source. Cooper had managed to score two solar panels—old ones that were probably as inefficient as solar panels could be—a cobbled together POV and a pound of some of the best weed the mountain community could cultivate. Copper wire was getting scarce, and they had been unwilling to trade that away for what Cooper had to offer. He had been told if he could come up with some mother boards in good shape and solder, they might be willing to work a deal.

Stopping, Cooper looked up to judge the clouds gathering above him. He shifted the weight of the .308 on his shoulder; even a Featherweight could get heavy when walking with it for four hours over a decaying country road.

“What do you think?” he asked the llama. “Should we push on?”

The llama cast a glance at the man and threw its head from side to side as if to say they should stop and wait it out.

“I don’t know,” said Cooper, scratching his chin under the beard. “I think we’ve got another hour or so before it lets loose. Besides, there’s nothing here to take cover under; we’d be getting wet anyway. I seem to recall an old gas station down the road or something.”

The llama yanked at the lead.

“Well, I think we should keep moving.”

Cooper pulled at the lead and started walking again. He did that a lot when he was travelling alone; talked to the animal. It helped him to work through problems he was having around the homestead, let him bitch about personal conflicts, or just carry on a one sided conversation about things no one else would have cared about. Often times he sang his way through old albums he remembered, or songs he had performed himself. The animals didn’t seem to mind, and it kept Cooper’s mind occupied as he put one foot in front of the other and peered across empty fields, into forests and took in vistas which would have been lost to him if he had been travelling by car. Cooper had never realized just how many things had been missed in his daily journeys to the grocery store and to town by whizzing by them at 70 miles an hour.

The sound of thunder came to him.

Cooper stopped and looked up at the clouds.

Lightening flashed in the smoky depths.

Cooper tried to guess the distance.

“Sound travels about a mile in five seconds across the ground,” Cooper told the llama. “The lightening flashed about ten seconds after; so about two miles, that’s how far away the storm is.”

The llama seemed unimpressed that Cooper would remember this bit of high school physics.

“I think we can get to the gas station.”

The wind began to pick up and blow the leaves across the roadway. He and the llama bent their heads against the wind and Cooper began to sing to pass the time. He sang a Jay Hawks tune, one by the Gin Blossoms, both about cheating and not really cheating—he wasn’t sure why he picked those songs, or stuff from the 90s, they just happened—then he began to rap some Eminem; not very well, which seemed to annoy the llama; Cooper didn’t realize the animal was a fan. He switched it up to Stormy Weather—the Ethel Waters version—as the big, cold rain drops began to fall on them, hitting the ground with hard pops and kicking up dust and dirt over his boots. Cooper thought about digging out his jacket, and decided by the time he got the weather resistant shell out of the pannier, he would be soaked anyway.

Another roll of thunder and the rain came in earnest, soaking Cooper and the llama until it felt like he was being pelted with BBs fired from a very powerful air rifle. Through the curtains of rain, Cooper could see the outline of the building ahead. He pulled at the protesting llama, splashing through the newly formed puddles and soaking his boots as the water sloshed up over his ankles and down inside, wetting his socks to the point that he felt as if he were running in a stream.

Finally, Cooper pulled the llama to a stop under the awning shaking the water from his head and wiping his beard while the storm dumped copious amounts of water on the earth. One of the bays to the garage was open, and rather than trying to shelter under the canopy where rain seemed to be splashing and spraying around them, Cooper once more dragged the llama through the downpour and into the musty, interior of the station. Once inside the sound of the rain was amplified by the metal roof and the cavernous interior. The wide bays still smelled of oil and gas, anti-freeze, and stale grease and exhaust. It reminded Cooper of the days he used to hang out at a friend’s garage while the man worked on his race cars and smash up derby tanks. Cooper stood for a moment watching the rain fall until the llama made a noise the man recognized as displeasure. Cooper turned and tied the animal off to an empty tire rack and began to strip the animal of the panniers and the solar panels, setting them aside to hang on another rack of some kind. He worked quickly, humming to himself while he worked, taking an old towel from the pannier to wipe the llama down and pouring a few kernels of grain into a pan for the animal to munch while they waited.

With nothing better to do, Cooper decided to explore the interior, perhaps find a chair he could sit in while they waited out the weather. Picking up his rifle, Cooper headed to the office area of the station, leisurely pushing open the squeaky door, strolling through the doorway as if it were just another day.

“You should just walk back out there,” came the feminine command.

Cooper stopped and mentally kicked himself for not having a little more situational awareness. The run through the rain, the sound of the steady drumming on the roof, the casual belief that he happened to be the only one on the road had lulled him into a false sense of security. Casting his gaze into the gloom, Cooper saw the woman standing on the other side of the service counter, deep in the shadows. He was vaguely aware of the barrel of the rifle she had pointed in his direction. He could see her long, deep red hair falling around her face, shading and framing her face.

“I’m just looking for a chair,” said Cooper.

The rifle motioned to one of several plastic seats in the little lobby area where Cooper stood. “Take one.”

“Sure thing,” said Cooper. “My name is Cooper, I’m just here to get out of the rain; I don’t mean any harm to anyone.”

“That’s a good thing for you,” said the woman.

With conversation at an end, Cooper made sure his hands were nowhere near his rifle and grabbed the back of the nearest chair, dragging it to him. The metal legs on the chair scraped across the floor with a sound similar to nails being dragged across a blackboard. Cooper winced at the noise.

“Jesus Christ, pick the fucking thing up,” scolded the woman.

“Sorry,” said Cooper, grabbing the chair and lifting it off the ground, struggling with the door and his rifle and the chair as he did so. His rifle fell off his shoulder and dangled from the crook of his arm, bouncing against the door frame and making Cooper wince; it wasn’t like the thing didn’t already have a myriad of scratches and dings in the stock, but he was worried about the scope.

The woman stepped from the shadows. “Are you simple?”

A polite way of asking if Cooper was mentally challenged if he had ever heard one. Cooper stopped struggling and set the chair down. “You mind if I put my rifle down?”

“If it keeps you from crashing around, no, I don’t mind,” she said, moving into the light. Cooper found himself staring.

It had been a long time since he had seen someone from outside of the valley or not living on the mountain that was his world. While she looked road weary; her clothing was dusty and stained, and she looked as if she could use a long soak in a hot bath, the woman was, in a word, stunning. It was not that Jessica was unattractive—she was in many ways the most beautiful woman he had known—but the sight of the woman and her deep, red hair blazing in the gloom and her sea green eyes, made Cooper forget all else for a moment. Only the blue-black barrel of the rifle between them kept his astonishment from erupting from his mouth. He slowly eased the .308 from his arm and leaned it against the junction of the counter and the wall. He carefully picked up the chair and backed into the garage area, set the chair down and moved back for his rifle.

When he moved into the lobby, the woman was at the counter, her own rifle resting on the surface under her hand. “You a tinker?”

“I’m just headed home from a visit up the mountain,” informed Cooper cautiously.

“Nice set up on that llama,” she noted. “Is Butler up the road?”

“About five hours,” said Cooper.

“Anything between here and there?”

“Nothing I saw.”

The silence hung between them for a long moment. Cooper found himself getting lost in her eyes. He blinked hard to break the contact, smiling to himself as he fondly recalled other Irish redheads from his past. She saw his momentary grin.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, her rifle twitching under her hand.

“Not—haha—funny,” assured Cooper. “Just a moment of spacing out.” He motioned toward his rifle. She seemed to think about it and then nodded. Cooper carefully picked up his rifle. He eased back through the doorway, stopping when she spoke.

“You got any food you want to sell?”

“I got food I can share,” smiled Cooper carefully.

“I haven’t had anything but jerky and hard biscuits for two days.”

“I have better food than that,” assured Cooper.

She seemed to make a decision. “Hang on, I have to get my gear.”

Cooper waited for her to duck into the darkness behind the counter and grab a small Osprey pack. She hefted her rifle and nodded. Cooper picked up his own rifle and nodded to a chair. The woman gave a brief smile and lifted one of the chairs to follow Cooper. He held the door for her and they crossed the double bay to sit the chairs down near the llama. Cooper leaned his rifle against the wall and began to dig through the panniers. He began to pull out smoked ham put up by one of the farmers near New Washington, rice they had traded for from further inland, dried apples and raisins, and an onion. She watched as Cooper freed a frying pan and a pot, which he held out to her.

“Can you get some water in this? Just fill it up,” he instructed.

She stared at the pot for a moment and finally took the pan and stepped outside to where the water was running off the roof overhang. Cooper cast about and found enough wood captured under the eaves of the building to fire up his little portable wood stove. Cooper put together the stove—a collection of flat pieces of sheet metal which made a box when connected—and built a fire using the stick he had gathered. He split the larger ones with his knife, and when the woman brought the pan back in, he set it on the small blaze.

“That’s pretty cool,” she said, inspecting the stove before taking her seat again. “Where did you get it?”

“Tinker Bob had a few of them one of the times he came through,” said Cooper, before realizing she might know who Tinker Bob might be.

“The old guy with the donkey, Little Jug?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” smiled Cooper.

“I haven’t seen him in a while.”

Shrugging, Cooper watched as the water started to boil and poured off half of the contents of the pot. He tossed in a handful of rice and several pinches of salt, covering the pot with his frying pan. He fed more sticks into the fire.

“Last I knew, he was working his way up and down the coast. He said he wanted to see what was happening in the city.”

“Only bad things,” intoned the woman in a manner that told Cooper she knew what she was talking about.

Cooper leaned back on his heels and stared over the cook set at her. “You’ve been?”

“Where’d the llama come from?” she asked changing the subject. The llama swung its head around as if it knew it were being spoken about. The beast smacked its lips and chewed loudly, letting out a deep burp as it cast its gaze on the two humans.

“Tinker Bob. We traded some work for it.”

“Those solar panels?”

“They are,” agreed Cooper, shaking the pot on the stove and adding another set of sticks.

“You going solar?”

He could see no reason to not talk to the woman, but he did not have to answer all her questions. “Where are you from?”

“Far away from here,” laughed the woman. “Days and days and days.”

“The City?”

She went silent.

“You have a name?” Cooper pressed. “Listen, you can tell me whatever you want, just so I have something to call you. But we’re about to have a meal here, and a little more than you quizzing me about my everything would be nice. Conversation is a two way street; I don’t mind talking to the llama, but that things got little interest in holding up its end.”

The woman sighed. “Call me Jolene—“

“—like the song?”

“Yeah, like the song,” she managed a smile and the expression changed the countenance of her entire being. “It was actually one of my mom’s favorite songs. She used to sing it every time she thought my boyfriend of the moment was treating me like shit. She’d sing it and then tell me that I could have any man I wanted; then she’d say to me, ‘Remember, ain’t no man good enough to have you.’ Then mom’d say she loved me, and give me a beer and we’d drink them at the kitchen table while she played old country music on the radio and did the dishes or whatever.”

“Sounds pretty special,” ventured Cooper.

Jolene laughed whimsically. “It was. I wish I had something bad to say about her, you know like they would in a movie or some shit, but my mom was a pretty stand up lady.”

“Well, if you want, I have a little white dog we can sip on while we wait for dinner…”

“White dog?”

“Whiskey before the cask,” grinned Cooper. “Moonshine, white lightening, hillbilly pop—take your pick.”

“You trying to take advantage of me?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.

Cooper shook his head. “I’m having a snort with or without you.”

He checked the rice and gave it a stir, fluffing the kernels and setting the pot aside, covering it with a piece of cloth and setting the fry pan on the stove. Cooper added more flames to the stove and dropped a dollop of bacon grease from a small jelly jar into the pan where it sizzled and filled the air with the smoky flavor. He swirled the grease around in the pan and stood while everything heated up. Going over to the panniers, Cooper pulled free one of the jugs of moonshine and twisted off the cap, taking a quick pull. The fire burned in all the right places in his body, warming him up from the drenching he had taken. He knew he should at some point remove his wet socks and replace them, but he was hesitant to do so until he was sure Jolene was not going to put a big hole in him; Cooper wanted a fighting chance.

He felt rather than heard Jolene come up beside him.

“Give me that fucker,” she said. “I’ve been on the road for too many days to say no.”

Cooper handed her the jug and watched as she took a healthy swig of the liquid fire, she let out a small shout when she dropped the jug away from her lips.

“Goddamn, that’s good.”

“Yes, it is,” agreed Cooper. He took the jog back and put the cap back on it while Jolene peered at the panniers.

“Do I smell Dank?”

The heavy, sticky, scent was wafting from the pannier, now that it was open and there was no denying it. “You do.”

“Butler?”

“Some of the best in the region.”

“Whew,” she bent over the pannier. “So, do you mind?”

“Break off a bud,” said Cooper, turning back to the fire and the smoking pan. “I’ve got dinner to finish.”

Cooper sliced off several hunks of ham and tossed it into the pan, adding the dried apples and raisins. When all was sizzling nicely, he diced the onion, tossed it in with the ham and fruit, grabbed his bowl and tossed a portion of rice and the pan fixings together. He handed the bowl to Jolene, who was looking over the bud she had chosen. She took the bowl and freed a spoon from her pack. Cooper added rice to the contents of the pan, stirred everything together, then began to eat directly from the pan.

Outside, the rain had fallen off to a pleasant, steady, late summer drenching.

“How long will this last?” wondered Jolene.

“Up here?” returned Cooper. “This is for the rest of the day. The clouds probably are stacked up tight against the mountain and it’s going to pour it out. Down in the valley, there’s going to be flash floods, I’ll bet. No one’s going to be moving around until the river drops down tomorrow, and anyone on this side is stuck under cover unless they hate themselves.”

She nodded. “Okay. Good. So we’re here for the night?”

“Unless you want to risk the five hours in the dark to get to Butler.”

“Not really.”

Cooper paused, thoughtfully weighing the value of her questions. “Somebody chasing you?”

Jolene dropped her spoon in the bowl. “I might be ahead of some trouble.”

“Are you the trouble?”

“No.”

“You want to fill me in?” asked Cooper. “Not for nothing, but I don’t want to get shot at while I’m enjoying a nice meal and a sip of corn juice.”

Sighing, Jolene closed her eyes and rolled her head tiredly. “There’s some trouble coming up behind. I’m just trying to make Butler to my uncle’s place before it catches up with me. I got word from him a month or two ago through tinkers that if I was able and willing, he and his family has a place for me—and my mom. Mom didn’t think she could make the trip, not on foot. So I headed up this way after making sure she was in a safe place.”

“There’s no trouble in that version,” mentioned Cooper.

“That’s because the trouble was supposed to be over when I left.” Jolene set the bowl down and leaned toward Cooper. “Things are fucked up in the city. Like, Warlord and crooked politician fucked up—religion, too. Everything there is controlled by one or the other and if you’re caught in the middle, life is shit. There was this guy, he thought because he controlled where my mom and I lived, he could take whatever, and whoever he wanted. He thought I was property. I dissuaded him from that with a bottle upside his dimwitted head. He’s got a bunch of thugs to hunt me down and drag me back. They caught up with me in Henderson, I managed to give them the slip with the help of a few drunken cowboys, and I figure I’m a day ahead of them.”

“You think if you make Butler, you’ll be home free?” asked Cooper. “Butler is not exactly a lair of warriors. Mostly tech nerds and hippies, even now.”

“My uncle says he’ll give me a place.”

“What happens when they catch up with you in Butler?”

“I’ve got my rifle,” she said, patting the stock of the bolt action at her side.

“Why didn’t you take care of the problem in Henderson?”

Jolene picked up the bowl and finished the contents before setting it aside again. “Thanks for the food, it looks like it’s letting up, I’ve still got some daylight to get the Butler.”

Cooper held out his hand. “Stay, for a little longer. It’s still pouring. I don’t mean to pry; you’ve got to understand that when trouble follows someone, it affects everyone they meet these days. It’s not like Before when there were people whose job it was to head off that sort of stuff. We’ve got to do it all on our own now.”

Sighing, Jolene nodded. “I do understand; I just know if I get to Butler, I’ve got people there.”

“Your uncle.”

“My Uncle.”

“What’s his name?” asked Cooper. “I was just there.”

“Dennis Walsh.”

Cooper shook his head. “I didn’t meet him.”

“It’s still a big world,” said Jolene, standing. She peered out at the rain, now falling in a more gentle manner. “I need to move on. Thanks again for the food.”

Watching as she gathered her gear, Cooper tried one more time to get her to stay. “The rainfall’s probably got the river up; if they didn’t make it over this morning, they won’t be able to for a day or so.”

“I can’t chance that,” she said, suddenly softer in her manner and tone. “Thanks though, the company was nice.”

Nodding, Cooper started to stand as well. Jolene waved for him to sit back down. “If you run into a bunch of religious nuts, you never saw me.”

“I never saw you,” agreed Cooper.

Jolene gauged the rain fall for a moment before swinging her small pack onto her shoulders and pulling her hair out from under the straps. Without another word, Cooper watched as she stepped out into the rain and began to tread steadily up the road toward Butler.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by doc66 » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:26 pm

He watched her until she disappeared into trees covering the roadway. Cooper finished his own food, used the water he had heated to make a quick cup of tea and clean out the pan and bowl. While the tea seeped, Cooper repacked the food and the cooking utensils. He watched the rain fall to a miserable drizzle, debating if he should head out as well. He finally finished the tea and knew if he didn’t get moving, he’d be stuck in the garage overnight, adding yet another half day to his journey. By this time the fire in the small stove had burned out. Cooper picked up the still warm stove and knocked the ash out of the firebox. He shook apart the metal sheets until there was only parts scattered on the floor of the garage. Leaving the pats to cool, Cooper walked over to where the llama stood staring at him.

“What did you expect me to do?” asked Cooper. “Escort her all the way to Butler? That’s half a day wasted, another whole day, really. We’d be spending the night on someone’s lumpy couch again; I’d rather sleep on the ground.”

The llama made a noise and turned away from Cooper. Cooper picked up the panniers and shook them to straighten the straps and resettle the load. He placed the first pannier on the pack saddle.

“You don’t think I’m not worried?” asked Cooper, checking the hang of the pack. “What I’m worried about is running into those fools.”

The llama stepped away from Cooper.

“Don’t be an asshole,” said Cooper.

He turned and got the next pack. As he did so, Cooper glanced out the garage door and saw a group of men walking up the road toward him. Groaning to himself, Cooper put the pack down and picked up his .308 instead. The men were already heading for the shelter of the overhang, dragging behind them a mule loaded with items under a tarp. The mule looked worn and sore. The men were looking soaked and road weary as well, with water dripping from hats and jackets. When they saw Cooper, they stopped under the canopy, a couple of them stepping casually behind the old gas pumps. Cooper could see they were all armed—all but the man leading the mule—and their weapons varied from an AK style rifle to a double barreled shotgun. Cooper gave the six men the once over before he nodded and called out to them.

“Afternoon,” he said. “Bad day to be out.”

One of the men stepped forward. “Our duty requires it.”

“Duty?” asked Cooper. “I don’t know of what obligation would keep a body walking in that storm?”

“We’re after a runaway,” shrugged the man. “A young woman.”

“No runaways here,” said Cooper.

“You alone then?”

“All alone.”

“You wouldn’t mind if we came in and took a glance around?”

Cooper looked into the dim interior of the building, checking to be sure there was no evidence that Jolene had been in the garage. He saw nothing at his glance, other than the extra chair sitting next to his own, where the stove was still sitting in pieces. There was nothing he could do about that now.

“I don’t own the place,” decided Cooper. “I just stopped for some lunch and to get out of the rain.”

The man nodded to the others and spoke a couple names. The men whose names he spoke separated from the group and eased into the garage, give Cooper hard looks as they walked passed. Cooper took in their patched and stained clothing and the square cut beards they wore. Both men wore heavy crosses outside their clothing. They peered into the garage for a second and noted the two chairs before moving into the office area and the storage room where Cooper had not even looked. The llama protested when the men walked by it, making a noise that sounded like spitting and Cooper heard one of the men let out a quiet oath.

“Come a long way?” asked Cooper.

“Be travelling for a week or more,” answered the speaker.

“Usually, a runaway stays gone that long, they don’t want to come back,” grinned Cooper as innocently as he could. “Seems a waste of man power and time to even look.”

The man was quiet for a moment. He seemed to be debating what to say and finally explained; “She was indentured to the Reverend. She still had time on her service.”

“Indentured,” repeated Cooper, trying to sound without judgement. “That’s kind of archaic, isn’t it?”

“We follow the Good Book and its tenants,” answered the man flatly. “Exodus 21 says that a man can be held for six years to pay his debt. When we provide food and shelter and protection to someone, we expect a return on our efforts.”

“Six years?” exclaimed Cooper. “That’s a long time. Aren’t they taking up more of your resources during that time? You’d think losing a mouth to feed wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

The man made a face of consternation at Cooper’s words, as if he’d had this conversation before and was tired of explaining it to people who did not understand his biblical point of view. “Her mother promised her hand to the Reverend’s boy, here,” the man indicated one of the men standing by. “We take all of those agreements seriously.”

The two men came and stood beside Cooper. Cooper ignored them, even though they made his hackles stand on end. There seemed to be a silent conversation between the speaker and the men.

“There’s two chairs in here,” one of the men said finally.

“What about them two chairs?” asked the speaker.

Cooper shrugged. “They were already in here.”

“Was a fire between them.”

The speaker stared at Cooper. Cooper gave a short laugh and waved a hand around the garage. “I built a fire for my lunch. I used the chairs to sit in and as a table. Does the Good Book have a rule about that?”

“Don’t mock our ways, son.”

“Then don’t question my ways,” returned Cooper, adjusting his stance so that his rifle was free to swing at the men and his revolver was clear in the holster. He knew he didn’t have a chance; and it was in this moment he wished he had something more than a bolt action rifle, but if it came to a fight, he would take at least two of the men with him, of that Cooper had already made his mind up about.

The tension stretched out for a long moment and then the speaker nodded. “So, no one came this way?”

“Not while I’ve been here.”

“You didn’t pass no one on the road?”

“Nope.”

“This is the road to Butler?”

“It was this morning.”

“You from Butler?”

“Nope.”

The man who had searched the garage spoke again, almost to himself. “She had to have come this way.”

The speaker stared at Cooper as if he could force Cooper to answer him through sheer force of will. “You saw no one?”

“I need to pack my animal,” responded Cooper. “You’re wasting my time.”

“I hope you’re not wasting my time,” countered the man.

“Or what? Jesus will be mad at me?” snapped Cooper. “I think it’s best you move on, maybe your girl snuck by when I was having lunch? In any case, I’ve said all I’m going to say to you.”

With that, Cooper turned away from the man and purposely shouldered the searcher, making the man take a step back. The man glared at Cooper and then looked to the speaker for direction. The speaker recalled the two and Cooper fiddled with the placing the panniers on the llama until the group was back out on the road and headed up to Butler. The llama gave Cooper a throaty moan.

“Not my problem,” said Cooper. “She’s got a head start, and she can probably make Butler before they can catch up with her.”

He adjusted the straps and picked up one of the solar panels to strap it down. The llama sidestepped his attempt to lash the panel down.

“Don’t argue with me,” scolded Cooper. “Six to one is shitty odds.”

The llama gave a cough.

“I heard what I said,” he told the beast angrily. He set the solar panel down. The llama blinked sideways at Cooper. “I’m not going to drag you back up that fucking road. You can stay tied up here for all I care. If I die, you’ll be stuck here.”

The llama sighed. Cooper unloaded the gear and stripped off the pack saddle. “Don’t expect me back.”

The animal gave him a baleful glance as it farted mightily in the confines of the garage. Cooper shook his head. “That’s not making me want to take you.”

Cooper did feel apprehensive about leaving the llama tied up in the garage. If something happened to him, the animal would be stuck in the garage, starving and dehydrating, until someone else came along and freed the animal. Letting out a low string of curses, Cooper pulled the panniers off the animal as well as the saddle. He pulled the gear into the small store room and placed the panniers, saddle, and the solar panels on a set of rickety shelving leaning away from the wall. Back out in the garage, Cooper check to be sure he was leaving nothing behind and heaved out a sigh.

“You’re going to do what I tell you to do,” Cooper told the llama. “You’re going to run when I yank on your lead, you’re going to stop when I pull it; otherwise I’ll leave you to the wolves and bears.”

The llama pulled at the lead as if to tell Cooper it was time to go.

“I don’t’ know why you’re in a hurry, they’ve all got a nice head start on us,” griped Cooper. “And it’s still raining.”

Walking a couple steps, the llama stopped at the end of the lead and made a llama noise. Cooper gritted his teeth.

Before picking up his rifle, Cooper checked the ammo in the belt loops and loosened the old Taurus M82 in the holster. He had twelve rounds of .308 on the belt and the same in .38 Special. With the one speed loader pouch he had another six. It had better be all he needed. He hoped he wouldn’t need any of the ammo. Cooper grabbed up his rifle and headed out into the rain after the men, and the beautiful redhead.
Last edited by doc66 on Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by doc66 » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:27 pm

The rain increased as they walked. The llama had fallen into a steady pace beside Cooper and the animal seemed to have accepted that the human could only go so fast. The air was cooler with the moisture falling from the sky. Cooper wished he had not given into his argument of conscious and stayed in the garage for the afternoon; after all the rain was going to swell the river, and the low bridge that spanned the expanse was probably underwater. Somewhere up stream there had been a dam failure and now the banks overflowed, farms flooded, and bridges were weakened and sometimes washed away. It might mean camping at the river bank until the waters subsided, but it was better than backtracking into a gunfight.

Cooper, however, couldn’t leave the redhead at the mercy of the six men. Strange customs aside, the reality of what the man had been describing to Cooper was slavery. On his mountain, Cooper helped his neighbors when he could, asked for nothing in return, and accepted what help or payment they felt they should give. If they didn’t offer—which rarely ever happened—Cooper knew the day would come when they would be there to help him. He tried not the keep score, and when the anger or bitterness of someone else’s lack of consideration started to take over, Cooper just reminded himself he could not be responsible for everyone’s Karma.

At this moment, walking in the rain, with water dripping off his soaked hat, smelling the wooly stench of the llama, Cooper had to wonder just what sort of good will he was building up with the Universe at that moment. He might hike all the way back to Butler to find Jolene safe with her uncle, the six men stymied by the combined force of the town. If that were to happen, Cooper hoped someone would provide him with a hot meal and a warm, dry place to sleep. He might also encounter the men walking back down the road with Jolene in tow, triumphant in their capture of the indentured woman. Should that happen, Cooper was unsure what his course of action would be; he believed he could hardly simply let them walk by.

While Cooper mulled over these thoughts, he steadily put one foot in front of the other, listening of noises above the patter of the rain on his jacket and the crunch of gravel under the soles of his boots. In the distance, he thought he heard voices. Cooper stopped abruptly and strained to listen through the ambient noises of the forest and the sky. There was another call drifting on the tendrils of the wind, and Cooper decided the noise lay ahead of him, travelling to him between the tunnel of trees walling the road.

Cooper and the llama shared a glance before Cooper yanked at the lead and picked up his pace. The llama did not resist much, but Cooper finally flung the lead over the animals shoulder in order to move without having to drag the animal. There might be a moment when Cooper would need to find cover, and having the four legged beast attached to him might hinder his actions. As he jogged, Cooper could hear the llama keeping pace with him, he marveled at the animal and how it often acted similar to how a dog might, and at the same time wondered if he were leading the animal into a situation that he could not protect the animal.

Down the road, Cooper could see where the six men had taken to hiding behind trees. The mule and its blue tarped load was tied to a sapling several yards behind them, grazing on the tall grass in the ditch, ignoring the drama playing out on the roadside. The men had their backs to Cooper, focused further down the road at a pickup truck which was resting at an angle in the ditch. There were vehicles dotting the roadside—and even the middle of the road—all over the travel ways. Drivers pushed the vehicles until they broke down, ran out of gas, blew tires, or until they simply stopped them and walked away from the relics. Cooper did not see what the men were staring at, but had no doubt it had something to do with an angry redhead. He heard the voice of the man who had done all the speaking call out across the distance.

“Jolene, you know we got you,” he said. “You just come on out and let’s not make this a fight you can’t win.”

“Dead or alive, one way or another,” returned Jolene, “I win this fight.”

“That’s a dangerous way to think,” said the man. The man waved to one of the others and the man attempted to move forward, decreasing the distance between the woman, presumably barricaded behind the truck.

“Danger is my middle name,” quipped Jolene. There was the crack of a small caliber, high powered rifle, and bark burst from a tree near the moving man’s face. The man dropped to the ground and low crawled to the trunk of a different tree. The mule jumped and jerked at the lead at the sound of the rifle shot. “Stay the fuck back! I’ve got a pretty good view of you assholes, and I’m not in a frame of mind to be too much more generous.”

“Stop that stupidity,” shouted the speaker. “It’s only a matter of time before you’re surrounded. Know when it’s done, woman. You’ve gave us a good chase, now it’s time to give in to the inevitable; you’re never going to make Butler.”

“Bite my ass, Jethro,” snapped Jolene back.

The words seemed to have an effect on the speaker; he brought his rifle up to his shoulder and snapped off a shot at the truck. The sound seemed to spur the others on as well and they opened fired on the truck, their rifles and shotguns booming and cracking and pounding across the distance. Cooper winced as the bullets thumped into the metal of the fenders and doors, starred the windshield, broke out the side window, and snapped through the trees, breaking branches and thumping onto tree trunks. Cooper stopped moving and took aim himself, his finger on the trigger and sighting in on a man with an AK rifle when the speaker began shouting for the men to stop shooting. The rifle fire stopped abruptly, making Cooper ease off the trigger; he didn’t want his shot to be suddenly the only sound left behind in the silence of their cease fire. The braying of the mule straining at the lead was loud in the quiet and one of the men eased up to try and calm the beast.

“Jolene?” called the man Cooper now thought of as Jethro.

“Hard to take me alive like that, Jethro,” came the return. Cooper thought she sounded scared through the bravado. He kept his sight on the AK rifleman, knowing if they shot again, he was going to kill the man who was the most danger at that moment.

“You know I hate it when you call me Jethro,” said the man.

“So you take a shot at me?” Cooper heard Jolene force out a laugh. “I’ll bet you’ve been wanting to take a shot at me for a while then.”

“Let’s not let the past feeling get in the way of what’s happening here,” said the man. “You’ve got to understand that your mother is suffering back home with you being gone. You need to just come back home and make this right; she’s beside herself over all this.”

“My mother knows what is happening, and she isn’t going to force me to do something I don’t want to do. You and your boys need to just turn around and march your asses back to the city and live in your little fake-ass Jesus world,” called Jolene. “I’ll bet with Wo Hop To pushing at you, it was hard to justify this little excursion.”

“You don’t need to worry about them; we’ve come to an accord.”

“I’ll bet it involves trading off women, don’t it.”

Jethro made some motions to a couple of the other men. There seemed to be some arguing back and forth over the instructions the man had given. Cooper bet it was about leaving the safety of the wide trees they were currently crouched behind. Finally, after several moments of gesturing and what seemed to be low, intense conversation, the men steeled themselves and trotted down the road toward Cooper, keeping as much of the treeline between themselves and Jolene’s angry rifle as they could. Cooper had to smile to himself; they had no clue he was there. Cooper faded into the trees and waited to see how far they were going to run before carrying out the speakers instructions. The mule sidestepped them as they ran passed, but the men ignored the animal, which was near wild from the noise of the rifles and the shouting.

The llama, on the other hand, doglike followed Cooper into the trees, its mouth full of wet greens it had found on the side of the road.

The two men ran at Cooper, oblivious that he was waiting for them. It was when they saw the llama that they came to a sudden stop, staring at the animal as if it were an apparition from another plane of existence. Cooper took the opportunity to step around his tree and point his rifle at the two men.

“Drop your guns,” he said quietly. The sound of his voice startled the men, and they turned to look where Cooper stood. The sight of his rifle held firmly in their direction helped them make their decision; they carefully set their firearms down and let the weapons fall to the wet earth of the forest floor. Cooper motioned with the rifle. “Pistols, if you’ve got them.”

The men pulled free a pair of pistols, carefully displaying fingers on the grips so Cooper would not mistake their actions for a draw, and dropped the respective handguns next to the rifles.

“Step on back and get to your knees,” ordered Cooper as another round of shouting came to them from where Jolene was trapped by the rifles of the other four men. The men did so. Cooper eased up to the dropped weapons and bent down—his own rifle held in the face of one of the men by one hand—and flung the long guns as far away as he could with his free hand. The pistols, Cooper shoved behind his belt. He was unsure what to do next. He had no rope to tie them up, no handcuffs, nothing with which to secure the men for his safety.

“You got any rope?” he finally asked the men after staring at them for what seemed an eternity.

“You’re messing with the wrong guys,” said one, feeling bravado he did not deserve since Cooper felt he had surrendered so easily.

“Apparently I’m messing with the exact idiots I need to be,” scoffed Cooper. He hefted the rifle. “You’ve got two choices, come up with some rope, or I shoot you.”

“If you were going to shoot us, you would have already,” came the reply. “I don’t think you’ve got the guts.”

“Jesus Christ,” breathed Cooper, pushing the rifle at the man and prepared to shoot him. Before he could get the rifle fully in position, the other man held out his hands.

“Shit, wait,” begged the man. “I’ve got line in my backpack.”

Cooper nodded as the first man gave the other a sour look. “Tie that fucker up. Know that if you pull some shit, I’ll plug you both and be done with all of this.”

“No tricks, no shit,” assured the man. “I’ve been on this stupid trek for about four days too long now; all I want to do is get home to my woman and my own pillow. This is bullshit.”

“Maybe you should have thought about all that before you came along,” said the other man.

“This was supposed to be a couple of days, not weeks,” complained the man, digging out the paracord and roughly grabbing the other man’s hands to tie him up.

“Behind his back.”

The man motioned for the other to submit. Reluctantly, the man put his hands behind him. The lashings were quickly finished, and tightly bound. Cooper suspected there was a little bit of anger and animosity steeped into the knots. The man submitted to Cooper tying him up. Cooper took the last of the cord and had them lay back to back on the wet ground and in the falling rain. He tied their ankles together. Finally, Cooper took one of the shirts belonging to the man and tore off strips of cloth, gagging the men so they could not call out. Finished, Cooper found their long guns, a bolt action rifle and a shotgun respectively, and dragged them with him back to his former post by the road.

At a glance, Cooper could see the men had moved closer to the truck. He sighed and took aim at the AK rifleman again, preparing to help Jolene defend herself.

“You’re surrounded, Jolene,” said Jethro. “Just give up.”

“Surrounded? Nice ploy, Jethro,” called Jolene. “I’ll bet a lot of movie watching helped you with that one.”

“Ben and Chris are behind you by now, aren’t you boys?”

Cooper looked over to where Ben and Chris were laying on the wet ground, the rain soaking their clothing. They stopped struggling against the paracord bonds when Cooper looked over. Cooper shook his head and hoped the lashings lasted long enough for Jolene to decide to finish sitting around in the rain and arguing with the men. He was afraid it was going to come down to a shootout; he doubted that Jethro was going to let her walk away.

When there was no answer from Ben and Chris, Jethro called out for them again. The rain pattering on the leaves was his only answer.

“Maybe they got lost?” quipped Jolene.

“They just don’t want to give up their position,” decided Jethro.

“Tell you what, if they’re back there, I’ll give up.” The tension of the wait seemed to drag out for an over extended amount of time. When there was no answer forthcoming as to the position of the two men, Jolene continued. “The trees got them. Why don’t you all give up and go home? It’s over Jethro, I’m going to walk out of here and go on up to Butler.”

“You aren’t walking anywhere but back to the City with us,” growled Jethro. “You’re mother made a pact with God and Reverend Boyle, and you’ll stand by that issue.”

“Fuck you, Jethro, there is no God in heaven that can make me go back to that place.”

Jolene stood away from the protection of the truck. She held her rifle level at where she believed the men to be, slowly backing away up the road. Cooper silently begged her to get back to the relative protection of the truck. He focused on the AK wielder again, breathing deeply, remembering the last time he had looked at another human through the scope, seeing the crosshairs between the man’s shoulder blades. Jethro made a hand signal and two of the remaining men ran up onto the roadway in an attempt to stop Jolene from getting away from them. The AK man hunched over his rifle, concentrating on the sight of the redhead over the front blade of his weapon.

Cooper did not hesitate.

His rifle boomed in his ears, the stock punching his shoulder back and the barrel rising slightly as Cooper leaned into the recoil. In the view of the scope, the man seemed to shrug before he fell to one side, his body hitting the wet ground to expose the man to the others. The two who had moved out to cover Jolene stopped and frantically searched the tree line for the source of the shot. Cooper ejected the spent round and cycled in another before the rifle was even level.

/You shot him in the back/

/His back was to me/

The words played out in his head as he cast a glance at the other two who had frozen at the sound of the rifle going off. They had managed to work the ankle bindings loose, but now stared, frightened, at Cooper, all thought of escape gone.

“Drop your goddamn rifles,” yelled Jolene.

The two on the roadway complied, the sight of their companion’s demise by an unknown assailant taking away the desire to fight. Jolene pushed them away from their weapons with her own rifle and ordered them to sit on the puddle filled roadway. Jethro stood away from his tree, calling down curses as he searched for Cooper, hidden in the trees.

“Ben, Chris?” ranted the man. “That had better not have been one of you! You’ll be banished and your lives forfeit for that. There’s no place on Earth you can escape God’s wrath for your betrayal.”

Cooper, disgusted with the tenor of the man’s speech, stepped over to where Chris and Ben lay. He finished removing the bonds on their ankles and forced them to their feet. He pushed at them with the warm rifle barrel and escorted them out onto the road.

“Game’s over, Jethro,” called Cooper. “It’s just you.”

“You, you collaborator,” snarled Jethro. “The power of the Church will be against you from this point on! God will have his say, you will not be fruitful or flourish, the power of God will rain down on you for this interference.”

“Oh, shut up,” said Cooper, walking the two men down the road toward their apoplectic leader. The man fell into silent fuming. Cooper heard a soft shuffle beside him and saw the llama following him.

“I hope you’re happy,” Cooper said to the animal. The llama gave a grunt of satisfaction.

Cooper and Jolene converged, herding the five men together at rifle point and stripped them of their weapons. The llama stopped beside the mule, dropping its head to graze in front of the panicked animal. The mule jerked at the lead a few more times, but the presence of the calmer llama had its effect and the mule—still wide eyed—tore at the grass. When they had the men sitting on the ground, Cooper and Jolene dug out a sleeping bag and filled it with the rifles and pistols and shotguns of the men, zipping it over the collection.

“What now?” asked Cooper to Jolene.

The redhead stared angrily at the drenched men sitting in puddles on the broken roadway. “I should shoot them all; but that would be wrong, right?”

Cooper shrugged. “Probably.”

“I say send them walking back to the City,” she decided. “Send them back one less man and lighter; take their rifles and shit.”

“We’ll never make it without them!” protested Ben or Chris.

“Then you shouldn’t have pissed off so many people getting this far,” barked Jolene at the man.

“You can have the shotguns,” said Cooper. “But know this; if you follow us up to Butler, I’ll shoot you as dead as I shot your friend there.”

“My back won’t be to you,” said one of the men darkly.

“It won’t matter,” assured Cooper. “You’ll be just as dead.”

Jolene kicked at the man who had spoken. “It’s over, Gary. Done. You stop right here.”

Jethro cleared his throat. “Your mother is going to suffer.”

Jolene confronted the man and leaned down to stare into his eyes. Each word she spoke was a pledge to the man. “You touch my mother, and I hear about it, I’m going to come back to the City and fuck you. I’m going to burn down your church, I’m going to murder your children, I’m going to see your wife sold to the highest bidder, I’m going to let you watch as she’s lead away, and then I’m going to burn you alive after I’ve cut off your cock and stuffed it in your mouth. Your preacher will die, your people will rue your name. I will have my vengeance, William Paul Casey. Remember this day, Jethro, this is my promise.”

She stood away from him and motioned down the road. “Fuck you all. Go. You get what you have on your backs and be glad for it. I hope you make it home, some of you don’t deserve this, some of you deserve more.”

The men stiffly stood, casting about in the once more pouring rain.

“Walk,” encouraged Cooper.

The men began to walk.

When they were out of sight, Cooper gathered the mule and the llama, hoisting the weapons onto the back of the mule.

“What now?” asked Cooper to Jolene.

“I’m going to Butler,” she said. “You can come along, or risk meeting up with them down the road.”

Cooper laughed. “Butler it is.” He looked down the road. “I hope they don’t fuck with my shit.”

“That shit’s gone,” decided Jolene. She patted the pack animal. “I’ll bet we can work out some trades to replace it though.”

Cooper simply sighed to himself and motioned for the redhead to lead the way.
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Re: Cooper; new stuff added 01/20/2017

Post by doc66 » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:28 pm

Cooper and the llama stopped at the garage on the way home. Jolene and her uncle accompanied him, the mule loaded with his new trade goods, received in exchange for the items taken from the men who had been following Jolene.

Cooper gave the place a careful once over before approaching; he waited for most of an hour to be sure no one was lurking in the interior before stepping in to see if there were anything left of his gear. Jolene and her uncle waited with him, sharing a pipe of some of Butler’s finest with him while they waited.

There had been a fire built in the center of the garage, with the chairs pulled close to the blackened spot on the floor. He stepped into the back room and saw that his panniers were still there—tossed on the floor, albeit empty of their contents; his sleeping bag, his food, the whiskey bottle smashed and marijuana scattered and ground into the dirt on the floor, and the stove had been bent nearly unusable. Apparently, they had not known what the device was and settled for destroying as much as they could. Cooper spent a moment mourning the loss of his titanium cookware, especially the tea kettle, before searching the small room further. The saddle was there, thrown against the wall, but thankfully unharmed. When he picked up the panniers, Cooper saw someone had slashed the leather with a knife, rendering them useless at the moment. Hoping the panniers could be repaired, Cooper gathered them and the saddle to carry them outside.

The solar panels were the biggest blow. The irreplaceable glass panels had been hammered at and the delicate cells were shattered beyond repair. Cooper felt a momentary surge of hate and vengeance at the sight of the bent panels and the shattered glass. The saving grace was that Jolene’s uncle knew of other panels and he was arranging to have them delivered to Cooper’s homestead via the complicated exchange route travelled by the tinkers and caravans which roamed the crumbling byways of before.

With the help of Jolene and her Uncle, Cooper transferred the goods from the mule to the llama, lashing the load to the saddle and covering it with a tarp. Jolene’s uncle led the mule away as she stood with Cooper in the warm sunshine and watched as the man stopped to adjust something on the mule’s saddle.

Jolene smiled at Cooper—something she had taken to doing over the last two days—her eyes lighting with a sparkle not found in them when they had met. Cooper found himself getting lost in the green depths and managed to look away.

“You could stay another day or two,” teased Jolene. “I’ll bet the water’s still over the bridge.”

Shaking his head, Cooper looked down at her with a smile. “I’m already overdue.”

“Jessica is one lucky woman,” said Jolene.

“I’m the lucky one,” corrected Cooper.

They were quiet.

“Well, you need a change,” said Jolene, her eyes as fiery as the sun in her hair, “you come back this way.”

“So long, Jolene,” said Cooper.

“So long, Cooper,” said Jolene.

They hugged and she broke away and walked back to her uncle, the two of them waving once before turning away. Cooper returned the wave and set out, pulled the llama.

“I hope you’re happy,” said Cooper to the animal. “I’m days behind.”

The llama snorted a wade of phlegm onto the road.

“Call it what you want,” returned Cooper. “I’m still blaming it on you.”

The animal said nothing more as they walked, leaving Cooper to his thoughts as they walked. Cooper began to sing to pass the time, remembering old ballads and songs about women as they went.
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