There's a reason I'm living in a disguised soddy in 2012. Big Rock Creek is a stone's throw away. It feeds into the Fox River over twenty miles south of where I am. I got caught up in something stupid--a gang initiation. Two guys, kids really, were given a couple cheap automatics and told to rob a grocery store.
Guess who was doing some late night shopping? Yeah, me. I heard all the yelling and screaming, then decided the old saw about living to fight another day. I dodged back into the prep area between the produce and meat section. When nobody was looking I picked up a big meat cutting knife and stuck it in my back pocket. Then I saw a big, fat fire extinguisher on the wall. I grinned and took it down, pulled the arming pin, got back just around the corner from the swinging doors and started making a racket.
Just as sure as God made little green apples one of those idiots bashed through the door, yelling for anybody and everybody to get down on the floor. It took me one step and a little pivot to be have that nozzle right in his face. I shoved it forward until I had contact with the bell and squeezed the trigger. I rode him all the way down to the floor. He fired two incredibly loud shots and relaxed. I have to admit, I was pretty shaky. Fool number two came to investigate the noises. I crouched down behind half of the door with that big honkin' knife in my hand. As soon as he stepped through I cut the backs of his legs, deep, then shoved him over onto his face. His head bounced and his gun skittered away over the concrete floor to under a packing counter. It was over.
Well, it was over except for all the depositions, the idiot detective that wanted to include me in his little brag sheet for busts that month and the grand jury. The D. A.'s office tried to hang me up to dry for murder. (The guy I attacked with the fire extinguisher died.) I was absolved of any culpability. That was it as far as the county was concerned. The gang? Not so much!
After the first attempt on my life I got the idea that I wasn't too safe. I already had an Illinois firearms owner's card, commonly called a FOID card. I owned a big S&W N-frame .357 revolver and a double-barrel 12-gauge coach gun. I hit a big local gun store for a bolt-action .22 rifle and a bolt-action .22 WMR (magnum) rifle. I bought a cheap but dependable name, Savage. Both rifles, slings and soft cases set me back about six hundred. Then I bought a bit under a thousand dollar's worth of ammunition. I put it all on my credit card as I wanted to keep as much money available as I could. I had plenty of room behind the seat of my pickup.
Luckily, when they tried to firebomb my apartment they hit the locking assembly rather than the sliding glass door. It sure got the fire department's attention though. I figured that I'd better move. Well, I pretty much had to as the fire bombing got the landlord pretty hot. Since I wasn't listed in any phone books somebody had access to my records that the gang could put the touch on. I couldn't even rent a trailer without leaving records somewhere. I didn't put a lot of effort into cleaning the place--namely, none. I also left all the stuff I couldn't use without electricity behind, along with my big queen-sized bed and the futon couch with the "vee" in the middle
I got let go at work, "for security reasons". Thanks for the stab in the back, assholes. I was fully vested with the state teacher's retirement fund, so I had some income headed my way. I found a mailbox place and laid out a year's worth of rent. Then I contacted the IMRF administration to tell them where to send the checks. When I left the apartment I lost my mail box. When I lost my job I lost my phone. Now I needed a place for me.
I had an idea, but it needed the cooperation of an old grain farmer that used to use my dad for his tax work. A different man used to run Angus cattle on a farm he leased from my great aunt. The telephone company ran a cable across the property and left some of the insulation from the buried cable in a pile. His cattle, being dumb bastards, ate it. Their hooves fell off, they went blind, hair came out in patches and they died. I remembered seeing that big black pile of dead cattle next to the road. He sued for damages, won and retired. The farm remained empty for several years, then my aunt died. The buildings were left to decompose and fall over at the whim of the weather. This old farmer bought the property as an investment. It was all tree covered grassland that shelved down to the river on one side of the road and corn fields on the other. A little north of there both sides of the creek were covered in heavy brush and trees. I'd camped down there as a kid. I knew about several sweet springs that fed into the creek, but there were bogs around them.
Adjacent to the farm, just to the north lay a five acre plot that had a contested title--it had been a boy scout camp. They'd used a bull dozer to cut a path for a car and a pad for a big bunk house and kitchen. They'd turned up a lot of rocks, then left them piled up. The camp had closed about the time of the Korean war.
Alfred gave me the time to tell my story, then agreed to let me live on the riverbank property for a hundred bucks a month, including allowing me to park out behind his machine shed. I thought that I got a hell of a deal. He even gave me permission to salvage from the old farm across the road. Alfred's nephew was working the grain farm in exchange for inheriting it when Alfred kicked off. He started to raise hell about our deal. I convinced him that if his fat mouth got me killed he'd be living with it on his back for the rest of his life. He reluctantly agreed.
I didn't have that much time to get my belongings out of the apartment. I bought a couple big polyethylene tarps to nail up inside the old machine shed. That gave me a place to temporarily store the stuff I owned, a place to sleep while my place was under construction and to store my construction supplies.
I found an abrupt shelf in the bank about a third of the way up the grade. I staked out a place for a 10x25 soddy, a long run for the doorway and a pit toilet. I made damned sure that the pit toilet was a long horizontal distance away from the spring I was going to use. The soddy was going to be about a half mile from Alfred's machine shed, right down the edge of his field. It was all dirt so it would be impassible to my truck after a heavy rain or during the spring thaw.
A hit on a hardware store netted me three bags of cement, a wheel barrow, a diamond point shovel. a pry bar, a bow saw, a crosscut saw, a couple big plastic buckets, four boxes of dock spikes and a piece of three inch gas pipe with a cap threaded over one end. A local builder's lumber yard stocked hundred foot rolls of fiber-reinforced 20 mil polyethylene. I bought a roll of that along with a case of adhesive and a caulking gun.
The trees at the boy scout camp had grown too closely together to thrive. It meant I had a good supply of small tall tree trunks. They were mostly maples. I used a bow saw instead of an axed to cut and trim everything as it was quieter. I trimmed the first batch out to ten foot long segments. Once I carried them across the creek to the cabin site I pointed one end. I used a cheap canvas tarp to hold the dirt as I dug out the living space. After getting an eight foot height in back I pounded those poles into the ground to keep the back wall stable. Each wall got a cribbing of vertical poles, then I dug out the entry tunnel and reinforced that. Then I nailed horizontal poles in a box frame. Once it was all firmly in place including the lining to the access tunnel I started roofing. I used a bow saw to square up all the log ends making up the walls. I notched the tops every two feet along the ten foot long walls, then cut heavier poles to fit across the notches. Then salvaged 4x4s were nailed to the tops of the walls as a cap rail. Next I cut twenty-five-foot long poles and laid them in place. Once I had coverage they got nailed down at the ends. It was awfully dark in there, so I found an unbroken window and cut a hole next to the doorway. The roof and all the inner walls got covered with 20 mil polyethylene and glued down.
For a floor I poured a little water on the clay, tied baggies over my feet, poured out two bags of cement and stomped it into a paste. I used a piece of barn wood to use as a screed and level everything out. It ended up being about two inches thick. Talk about a back-breaking mess.
While that set and dried I cut another hole through the wall for a fireplace, knee high to hip high and wide as my shoulders. That would give the setting concrete a bit of an air flow to dry after it crystallized. That was the time I dug out the pit for my outhouse, then built it out of barn wood. Next I started hauling rock. I had to carry all that rock up from Camp Jay as well as whatever I found in the creek and at the edges of Alfred's field. After four days of drying I started in on the fireplace. The outer wall was covered with a big sheet of cement board to keep the wood wall from burning. I found a fireplace furniture and patio place that had fireplace cranes for sale. They had decorative ones that nailed in place and heavy ones that had to be installed when the firebox was built. That's what I bought, along with a damper. I made a plinth for the fireplace to sit on, made of big square 2'x2' concrete bricks, both inside and outside. I had to dig out the outside foundation then fill it with rock and cement before making a plinth for the chimney and firebox to rest on. Then I started laying in the walls. I kept the chimney inner walls the same size as the firebox, but shifted back by eight inches so that the firebox projected into the room. I built the fireplace in the rear corner of the room across from the doorway. Once it all cured I back-filled around the whole place. I covered the roof with four inches of playground sand then laid dirt over everything. I drove a five foot tall line of posts four feet from the outer wall on the downhill side. I filled the gap with more dirt, then piled dirt over the short wall. Both short walls got covered except for the window. I covered the bare dirt with hummocks of grass taken from the boggy area down by the spring.
I was almost done. I needed a rain cap for the chimney, a door and wood wall covering. The door and rain cap I had to buy. The wood lining came from more barn wood. I glued it up rather than nailed it to keep the number of holes in the liner down. Then the whole thing got painted with white enamel, floor, walls and ceiling. It looked good! I made a trial fire. It drew fine. Did you know that a fire grate isn't made for cooking? I cemented a two-inch-thick limestone slab across the front of the firebox to keep the fire in the firebox and to help with cooking. The inside of the firebox looked like bright yellow bricks before the soot colored them. They were firebrick.
I first brought in a little twin bed. Then I hoofed in my highboy, which had a sliding bar in the tall half for hanging shirts and such. I used it to store all my clothes. I already owned a little oak folding table and a comfortable chair. I needed a big blanket chest to hold my quilts and bedding. I still had some good barn wood left, but I took my time with this piece and used a plane on every board. Then I screwed it together and painted it, inside and out. I've always been a firm believer in wool blankets. I kept a hand full of moth balls in there too.
My kitchen was pretty barren. I owned a small dutch oven, a three-legged one quart round pot with a lid and a cast iron fry pan. None of my other "more modern" pots and pans but for two could be used with a fire as the handles would melt. The old house had partially fallen in, but I managed to dig out a glass-fronted kitchen cabinet with two pieces missing. They weren't too hard to replace. I found a wood base cabinet at a Habitat for Humanity, then secured some boards to the wall to screw the upper cabinet in place. I had to use a hand impact drill to secure a 2x6 in place for a mantle above the fireplace. That's where the cooking tools were stored, along with my oil lamp.
Alfred came by to visit. He told me the only way he found it was by watching for my trail and looking for the outhouse. Of course, he scared the hell out of me when I heard that knock on the door. I went down to the spring for a couple beers, then we sat around an shot the shit for a while. He was pretty impressed with what I'd managed to build. He'd been expecting some little dirt hole in the ground or a buried corrugated steel cattle crossing tube. I arranged to get permission to take squirrels on his place which thrilled me to no end. I wrote out a check to him for six months' rent. That put a smile on his face. Just after harvest grain farmers are cash poor, as the grain has to be harvested, dried and shipped to market before they get paid. It all costs money
There wasn't much for me to do before I was ready for the fall rains and winter. I needed firewood, sure, and maybe a tiny little radiant heater on a propane tank. There's a couple models that are pretty fuel efficient--they're designed to use a one pound tank. If using a twenty pound tank instead I should be good for over a week of nasty nights. I wanted to get a line of shaker pegs installed to hang my coats, and I wanted a three gallon stainless bucket or something close to heat water for dishes and to bathe.
I dug out the boggy area around the spring and filled it in with rock. It made getting fresh water a lot less messy.
Once a month I went into town to buy groceries, have some meat for dinner, cash my retirement check and do my laundry. Some times I swapped my propane tanks, refueled the truck, got a haircut or bought a load of firewood. I was doing pretty good.
Then Tom, Alfred's nephew, had to open his fat mouth. The idiot bitched about the old hermit on their land while getting blasted in a bar. One of the guys in the bar followed Tom home and got a look at my truck. He instantly made ten thousand bucks by ratting on my location.
It was spring, just before squirrel season. I'd moved my pistol and the shot-shells for it into the house.