John Wideman sighed and sat on the porch of his ranch, satisfied. Ranching in the Texas Panhandle could sometimes be hard, but this year had been very good indeed. He had bought several trailer loads of feed hay for the remaining herd, which should last well into next spring. With what they could get from the grass and the hay, there was more than enough to keep the herd happy until the spring grass grew in.
John had let a lot of his hands go, as the winter months he didn't need as many as he did in the spring and round up time.
He still worked the ranch as it had been since his ancestors first did it. They rode horses wherever they had to go on the ranch. True, he had vehicles; but when driving a herd, you needed to do it from horseback.
A couple years ago during a drought scare, John had decided to drill a new deep water well, not far from the house, to water the herd. He had been surprised to hit a natural gas pocket instead. He had had it capped off very quickly and called in a specialist in natural gas. He was told that with the amount of pressure coming up and from the quality of the gas, the specialist thought he had several decades of gas to use, at the very least.
He had quickly had a system set up to run all the buildings at his headquarters with this gas and stopped ordering propane. He also upgraded his generator, which he'd had for emergencies to a larger one. It was capable of producing enough electrical power for the big house, the bunkhouse, and the barns. The new generator had been designed to run on natural gas.
Whenever a strong storm or tornado blew through, the ranch usually lost power for several days at a time. The longest he had been without power had been close to two weeks. This would not happen again.
Besides the cattle, he also had chickens, a couple milk cows, and a huge truck garden. His wife, Clarissa was into canning. This resulted in their having all sorts of vegetables and jellies for the entire winter.
While it rarely snowed where they were at, it did get cold. Right now, the weather was nice. He had sold off the majority of his herd, and had made a nice profit. He'd bought supplies from town, which was eight miles away. Living out in the middle of nowhere, you bought large amounts of basic supplies, to last you.
Life was good and then the news started getting strange. Reports came out of the cities, about a flu that seemed to be very dangerous. Also, none of the flu shots worked on it. In fact, nothing seemed to help at all.
John called his two sons and invited them and their families to the ranch, until this flu thing cleared up. To John, it seemed dangerous. He thought everyone would be safer at the ranch. His oldest son, Jason, agreed to send his wife and two children; but he, himself, could not get away.
His other son, Michael, was agreeable. He told his father that he would fly in with his family. Michael had a twin engine Cessna, which he used as part of his business, and would use that to fly himself and family to the ranch.
John heard his wife come out and she joined him on the porch swing.
"I was just listening to the radio, and they say that people who get this flu don't seem to recover from it. John, they say it is very contagious and they are talking about closing the interstates and cities, to try to contain this thing. Oh John, I am so worried about the boys and our grandchildren," Clarissa said tearfully.
"Well, everyone has agreed to come, except Jason. Since he is a doctor, it is doubtful he can get away, but at least his wife Karen and the twins will be able to come and be safe," John replied.
John thought about what they would need to survive if things got bad. They had cattle so meat was no problem, and they could always hunt. They had chickens for eggs, and a couple of milk cows. He thought that they should buy more sugar, flour, salt, and other items for household use.
He had six hands who stayed with him all year round. A couple of them were really good with tools. John himself knew how to shoe horses, so that would not be a problem. He decided to check out the old house, and make sure it was still sound, as they might need it to put people in.
The original house still stood. That was mostly due to the quality of the materials used in the building of it, but his family also had taken good care of it all these years. He got up and retrieved the old fashioned key for the lock on the front door of that house.
His wife followed him and they walked to his family's historical house. They walked around the house first to see if anything needed attention. It had been a few months since the last inspection.
He noted that no new wood rot had developed and that everything seemed solid. He went up the porch and to the front door, and unlocked it. As he went in, he was hit by a musty smell. He really had to air this house out more often.
It was on the dark side inside, as the windows were covered with the heavy curtains that his grandmother had made for them so many years ago, replacing the ones his great grandmother had made.
"John, I think the weather stripping needs replaced on the doors," his wife spoke out.
"I think you're right," John responded, looking at the evidence on the stained floor before him.
Besides the weather that had gotten in via the poorly sealed door, there was evidence of bugs, spiderswebs, and flies. Well, that was easily solved. They moved through the house and John was pleased at how well it was withstanding time. The glass in the windows had been replaced years ago, but the frame and structure of the windows were still what had been originally built.
The kitchen was as he remembered it. A Franklin stove was against one wall, an oak table standing in the middle of the room with four chairs ready for use. The three small bedrooms were also musty.
John spent some time opening windows, which were reluctant to open at first. His wife opened the front and back doors, letting in what little breeze there was. John decided to clean out the chimney and the iron pipes for the kitchen stove's exhaust.
The place was dusty and needed a good cleaning. Clarissa took the broom and started sweeping and John took a bucket out to the old well and drew some water. He smiled as he did that. This well had never failed the family, in almost a century.
He and his wife spent the day cleaning and he did small repairs to a few items that needed it. All in all they were pleased with what they had done to the old house. John looked over the buildings of the ranch from the porch of the old house.
There was a huge old barn that held a lot of hay for the horses and the two milk cows, the chicken feed for the chickens, and riding tack for the horses. There was the old carriage house, which still held some of the old horse drawn buggies and wagons. John kept them all in repair out of respect for the memories he had of riding in them as a child, and for his great grandparents, who'd had them as their only means of transportation.
There was the chicken coop, the old smoke house, which they still used occasionally, the old and the new machine sheds. The old shed was where the old horse drawn plow, disc, harrow, and rake were kept.
The new machine shed was where the tractor and the modern counter parts were kept. There was also the blacksmith shop where John took the horses to be shod. He did not have the experience or knowledge to operate all the equipment in the shop, but it was there and if someone knew what they were doing, it could be used.
Then there was the long bunkhouse. Right now it housed the six permanent hands he kept year round, but it had bunks in it for up to twenty hands. John was not only the owner, but he was also the foreman, right now.
Then there was the new ranch house his father had built when John was seven. Moving into the new house had been exciting to John, as it had electricity installed. That was the first time the ranch had electricity, and it had been an exciting thing at the time.
There was also the old outhouse, and finishing it off were the new generator shed, and an old shed which had become the storage place for just about anything that might be useful in the future. John saved whatever was still capable of working, something he had learned from his parents.
John was waiting three quarters of a mile away from the house with a buggy hitched to a horse. The grandkids loved it when they got to ride in the buggy, and John loved spoiling them.
He watched as the plane came in and landed on the grass airstrip. It was kept mowed short and the ground was kept level, just for this purpose. He watched as the plane roared with the props reversed, and finally came to a stop.
He flicked the reins on the horse and it started forward. He watched as a door opened on the plane and people started coming out. First was his daughter in law, Rachael. Then came his granddaughter Tracy, then his grandson Mark, and finally his son Michael came out.
He pulled on the reins and stopped the buggy.
"Did someone order a horse drawn carriage?" John asked with a smile.
"Grandpa! Can you give us a hand with our bags? We packed way more than we normally do," Tracy asked with excitement in her voice.
"Hmm, if you have a lot, we might have to send a truck back for it. Not a lot of luggage space on this buggy," John responded thoughtfully as he got down from the buggy.
He got a hug from his grandchildren and then Rachael, who also kissed him on the cheek. Finally he hugged his son to him tightly.
"Glad you could make it Mike. From what your mother is saying, its getting bad out there," John stated.
"You don't know the half of it dad. We almost didn't get away at all. If I hadn't done some fast talking and then ignored the radio later in the flight, I think they would have forced me down a couple hundred miles from here," Mike responded seriously.
"So, how many bags did you bring?" John asked, changing the subject.
"Enough that you had better have a truck come down for them. I think Rachael packed everything but the kitchen sink," Mike said with a fake groan and holding his back.
"Now be nice. You don't want us walking around naked in a couple months do you?" His wife asked.
"Now that might be fun!" Mike said grabbing his wife.
"Daddy! That's disgusting!" Tracy said and rolled her eyes.
"Can I drive the buggy back to the house grandpa?" Mark asked eagerly.
"I don't see why not. You haven't been drinking, have you?" John asked his grandson.
"Grandpa don't be silly. I'm not old enough to drink yet," ten-year-old Mark responded with an exasperated sigh.
"Hey! That's not fair! I wanted to drive the buggy!" Tracy almost shouted.
"Tracy! Your brother asked first. I'm sure you will get plenty of chances to drive the buggy while we are here. Now take one bag and get into the buggy, Missy," Rachael said quietly but firmly.
"How about I drive the buggy back to the plane and get the rest of the bags after we drop off mom, dad, and Mark? That way you don't have to waste gas grandpa," Tracy said, already plotting for a better and longer drive than her brother.
"Sounds like a plan," John responded genially.
"Dad, I am going to have to drive some pretty big stakes into the ground to make some tie down points for the plane. Got anything that would work" Mike asked his dad, while Mark was driving them back to the house.
"I think I can find something. I have some rebar that we can bend one end for eyelets. They're about three feet long, and half an inch in diameter. Will that do?" John asked.
"Perfect," his son responded.
They got to the house, and the kids rushed to hug grandma, who swept them into her arms. She then hugged her son fiercely, and then hugged Rachael and kissed her on the cheek
Tracy came running back to the buggy after putting her bag in the house, and off they went, to get the rest of the bags from the plane. John chuckled to himself at his granddaughter's eagerness to drive the buggy.
They got all the bags loaded into the buggy and Tracy drove back to the house, chatting about her friends, what was happening at home. John listened and followed only a few of the things she talked about. Had the world changed that much?
After the evening meal, the kids went outside to explore and see what had changed, since the last time they had been here. John had already listened to the reports of his hands who had written back in.
It was time to restock a couple of the line shacks. John frowned at that. He was thinking someone was stealing supplies. It had happened before, but he never begrudged a starving man a meal. He told one of the hands to load up the ranch pickup and to make the rounds and restock all the line shacks the next day.
"Still coming up with missing supplies at the line shacks dad?" Mike asked his father.
"Yeah. Probably someone who is homeless or illegals heading north. I don't really mind so much, but it can make for a hungry camp for a hand who finds himself out there at night," John replied.
"Dad? I have been doing some very serious thinking about this flu thing. It appears to be a very deadly strain, and most people who get it don't recover. People are going to start fleeing the cities and looking for places in the country to live.
"Dad? We need to consider what to do if people start showing up here. As much as you might want to feed them, you can't feed the entire state of Texas, or Oklahoma if they show up here. We need to consider what to do with people and how to treat them. We also need to figure out a defensive plan," Mike said quietly.
Science Fiction /