The need to flee:
It came down at too high an angle and too fast to be anything other than extra-planetary. It was a meteor. The light was so bright that it left purple spots on my eyes, but I recalled seeing several shock-rings around the thing's path as it screamed through the atmosphere and struck somewhere beyond the curve of the earth, out at sea. I was in Santa Rosa California, on vacation with my aunt Terry. I'd been out at a mall waiting at a bus stop when that thing hit. Within four hours afterwards the ground shook, and shook hard. I figured that I was a dead man. One among many.
I looked around to see what vehicles were moving. I spotted a big Ford F250 with a 'cow killer' front grill and exhaust stacks that rose up behind the cab. The driver had just slammed into a Kia when the road bounced him across the intersection. I ran over to the guy who was just climbing down out of the cab to fight with the Kia's driver. I grabbed his shirt and shook him. Now, I'm just a little bitty guy, maybe five-five, one sixty. The guy driving the pickup looked like he could have changed one of his truck's tires without a jack. He was maybe six-eight, two eighty and muscular. You could tell because he was wearing a wife-beater and a pair of shorts.
"You saw that thing come down out of the sky?" He slowly said, "Yeah. One hell of a thing. I've never seen anything like it." "You never will again, either. That meteor hit the Pacific at a high multiple of the speed of sound. Wherever it hit is going to be one hell of a hole in the water. That means a world record shock wave. That means a killer tsunami. How fast can you drive inland?"
He wasn't dumb. He spent about three seconds looking at me and dove for his truck. I was right behind him. The Kia driver just stood there with his jaw hanging open.
Within two minutes he had the engine started, in gear and we had bounced across the lane divider to get to 101 south. He was really pushing it, dodging in and out of traffic. I spotted a trucker's map book between the seats and opened it to central California. "Heading for 80?" "Yep." "Better get fuel first chance before the traffic builds up at the stations." "Got it."
While he was filling the tanks at the truck stop I ran in to pick up a couple jean jackets and some jeans & flannel shirts for the both of us. I figured that he ran about a 4XL. A stock boy had a cart out with cased goods on it. I took a case of pork & beans off of him and a case of Arizona Iced Tea in gallons. I loaded it all in a cart, paid for it, took out the max I could at the ATM and ran out of there, hoping my driver hadn't split on me. He had pulled up to the door and waited while I threw my goods in the back of the cab. He said, "Good idea. Blankets, tarps and rope would help. We'll need good boots, too." I nodded.
I said, "Tom. Tom Baker." "Virgil Simmons."
We made it down to Ignacio in less than an hour, then picked up 37 east. Not a half hour later we were blasting east on 80 doing all the traffic could bear. "How much fuel does this thing carry?" "About a hundred and ten gallons. It's got two wing tanks. Why?" "I had a nasty thought. If that tidal wave blows California to hell, all the credit card clearing houses will go down in a flash. We'll have to keep those tanks full. It might be a good idea to max out every ATM we come across, and if you spot a branch of your bank, stop in to pull out cash--lots of cash. I'll do the same. We might only have half an hour to twenty hours until the wave hits, no tellin'."
Within an hour we were in Sacramento. I screamed, "There! Pull over!" I'd spotted a Citibank. I blew into there and pulled out eight grand, all I had in checking, then ran back out. "Hit a camping store if you can. Tarps, blankets, rope and such, like you said. Boots, tents, packs. No firearms, no sense standing around wasting time arguing. This is California. Wait until we hit the Nevada line."
We peeled into Cabela's and got a checker's attention. I gave him fifty to pile my quickly-scribbled shopping list on a cart while we went for boots, underwear and socks. We were out of there in a half hour--a new world's record. Just down the block was a California National Bank. Virgil slammed the truck into park and ran in. He was back out within eight minutes. I know because I had my eyes on my watch. We smacked into a Porche as we reversed out of our parking spot and drove off, leaving a highly irate rich person behind us.
Soon we were in Auburn, climbing into the mountains. Once we hit Truckee and had a couple ridges behind us we relaxed a little. I said, "I give us a fifty-fifty chance from here. If we can make it to the Colorado plateau, maybe an eighty percent chance. Then it'll come down to making it through the aftermath."
Virgil turned on the radio to see if there was any news about the meteor strike. The news was full of the thing hitting the largest of the north-most islands in the Japanese chain-- the Kurile islands--wiping out the northern half of the country, and more. A giant plume of superheated gasses was boiling up through the atmosphere from the impact point. Volcanoes previously thought dormant for ages had erupted--some relatively moderately, some quite violently. Boats were seen filled with people fleeing the Greek mainland and the Santorini area. The San Francisco earthquake line had triggered, dropping the western quarter of the state by forty feet. Yellowstone was doing grim things that looked like the build-up to one hell of a bang. I turned it back off. "Just keep drivin', bud. Just keep drivin'.
The need to plan:
Once over the border into Nevada we slowed down for the traffic leading into Reno. I spotted a coin dealer and Virgil spotted a gun store. I grabbed his arm before we left the truck. "There's something to be said for smaller rounds. A .22 magnum will take game as easily as a .30-30 if you sneak up on it, but the shells are smaller and cheaper. It would be wise to carry the same caliber for both of us, pistols and rifles. If we need something like a .308, fine. Try to make it a military weapon as they go through some fairly rigorous tests before approval." "Where'd you learn all this shit?" "Army recon training." "That'll do."
I dug out my reserve credit card--the high interest one that they were glad to give me a twenty two grand limit on--and walked through the store with a cart. He was part military surplus, part gun store. I got us both K-Bars, Gerber hatchets, ammo pouches, web belts, canteens and covers, ponchos, liners, rain hats, bolt-action .22 mag rifles with iron sights, a Belgian FN-FAL semi-auto in .308 and something we were truly lucky to find, a pair of Kel-Tek PMR-30.22 magnum pistols. I bought a couple of .50 cal ammo cans and filled 'em up, one with boxes of 40 grain .22 magnum and one with FMJ .308s in their boxes. I took ten minutes fooling around with holsters to find two that fit our new web belts. I picked up a file, two black grit sharpening stones and a couple little white Arkansas stones to sharpen our KaBars. They always shipped from the factory duller than snot.
I went wandering around looking through his older stock to find a couple of M65 field jackets that would fit us, with liners. I had to get the owner involved but we did it. I filled the cart with a couple pair of paratrooper boots for each of us, some cans of mink oil, a case of fire starter tabs, a case of plumber's candles and a case of tear-open pocket heaters. We were good to go. Shit. I went back in to see if he had any cases of MREs made in the last six months. He only had six. I bought all six cases.
Next stop, the coin store. Virgil asked, "What the hell are we doing here?" "Simple. Buying crummy old silver dimes, quarters, halves and dollars. If he's got any little 5-gram gold coins for sale, I'll pick those up too."
"Virgil, I'm a big reader. I've read more disaster-themed books than I care to count. Once the electronic fund clearing dies the credit cards will stop working. If it gets bad enough, the banks will close, period. Then what the hell will we buy stuff with? Our good looks? I don't know about you, but that sure as hell leaves me out. I'd rather have trade goods."
He sighed and looked at me, then shook his head. "I don't know where you keep digging this shit up from, but you've got me scared. Okay, where are we goin' from here?
"I want to pick up a box trailer, a couple cots, a trip to a home building center and hopefully we can find somewhere to buckle down. We'll have to make a few runs on grocery stores for high volumes of canned goods and sealed up stuff like flour, sugar, jarred butter, baking powder, lots of salt, something to cook on, pots 'n pans, paper towels, sanitary supplies, a metric ton of toilet paper, ... should I go on?"
"Nope. I get the idea."
We were so tired that we couldn't see straight. We took a hotel room for the day. When Virgil woke up he found me poring over the map book. I noticed that he was awake. I glanced at the clock. It said 6:30 PM. "Whaddaya say we get dressed and get some food, then I want to spring a change on you."
"I'm awake enough. What kind of change?"
"I'd like to take us south to Las Vegas, then east to central Texas. If we get an extended winter from the ash fall, and we probably will, living in a warmer climate will be easier."
"My only question is, why central Texas?"
I sighed and sat back on the hotel chair. I had a little selling to do. "One, I grew up around Waco and have a pretty good idea of what we'll find. Two, there's not a fault line or a slip to be had in most of Texas. If volcanoes start going off like popcorn we'll still have a decent chance of seeing this through." I shrugged. "If the sea-level rises like crazy we're screwed no matter what we do because there isn't any decent farm land above five thousand feet that we could buy into."
Virgil rubbed his chin and thought for a while. "It doesn't cover all our bets by a long shot but I'll throw in."
We stopped at a pancake house for grub, filled the diesel tanks and headed south on 93. The traffic evened out to a nice steady 85. It was less than 400 desert miles to Sin City. We bought more silver from a coin dealer, more bullets (lots more bullets) from a gun shop, a twenty foot long box trailer, a chain hoist from a big hardware store and some how-to books from a bookstore. I managed to talk a bank manager into letting me tap out my savings account which sent me back around looking for silver and gold. Something told me to go into a beat-up-looking old gun store. He had a couple things behind the counter that I didn't know I wanted until I saw them. This guy had the real deal. Some of his stock should have been in a Korean War museum. I saw a little twist-type field dynamo for demolition work, an M5 medical kit and a couple little bitty bottles of tritium paint, used for painting your pistol and rifle iron sights. The shit's rare as hen's teeth. I also picked up a big spool of insulated twisted pair wire, some phosphate coated steel wire for traps, four second generation low light monocles, some spare batteries for them and a couple voice-powered field phones from circa WWII. He had the cots and closed-cell foam pads we'd want too. Virgil didn't say a thing. He just scratched his beard and watched what I bought.
We ate well at one of the casino breakfast/brunch places for about twelve bucks each. We cleaned up in their bathroom, changed clothes and hit the road. So far I hadn't bought into anything heavy for the trailer or truck bed because we had a long way to go.
We stopped in at the Bass Pro Shop in L. V. where we bought into synthetic underwear. It dries fast, doesn't chafe much when it's wet and washes easily. We also bought a few pair of sweats, a couple of FRS radios, a decent little Honda generator that was pretty quiet and eighteen big deep-discharge batteries. They had a box designed to keep a battery farm charged from a 110 volt line, so I bought that too. A Home Depot had strings of ultra-bright LED pods that plugged into a 12-volt wall wart. I bought a few of those for lights around our future camp. I had this nebulous idea that I was shooting for.
There was a 60 foot by 120 foot corrugated steel pole barn hopefully waiting for us east of Waco on 6 that the county used to use. I had this crazy idea about taking it over and putting a string of vacation trailers inside. Maybe, just maybe we could get permission to use the county's abandoned property to house folks in trouble. We might get as many as 30 trailers in there with a little breathing room between 'em. Ten feet per lot, two sides plus a couple across the end without the garage door. The big hole in my plans was where the hell was I going to get the house trailers. I didn't dare let Virgil on to what I planned for fear that he'd dump me off on the side of the road and go looking for better prospects--sane ones.
We drove further on 85 until we took 10 East. It then split north east on twenty and kept going south east on 10. We took 20. It was a long haul. We were both punch drunk from the road by the time we hit Abilene. The news was full of the wave that turned California into a memory. The Utah salt flats was a lake and most of Nevada was a nasty alkali swamp. It would take a hundred years for the west coast to settle down from Alaska to Chile. People were stranded all over the place because their credit and debit cards were worthless. All the card readers were dead, or couldn't call home to verify their balances which meant the same thing. We took a room for the night, paying cash.
After having a good meal at a steak house we settled down with a six pack to talk. We hardly knew each other. We were drinking Negro Modelo, a Mexican beer that we both liked. I wondered how the truckers were going to keep running if they couldn't access their fleet cards for fuel. It could get damned grim if somebody didn't smarten up and run fuel contracts for truckers with photo IDs or some such, and quickly. I looked out through the window and saw a haze in the air between us and the big street lights at the interchange. I pointed my bottle that way and said, "Looks like the ash clouds made it here fast. The gulf stream must have been coaxing it along." Virgil nodded, grimly. "Shoots the hell out of the crops. All the prices are gonna go through the roof, fast." "We'd better stock up on perishable foodstuffs like ground grains and pack them away. You ever heard of a gamma lid?" He snorted. "I'm a fucking Mormon. Don't try to teach your gramma to suck eggs." I about snorted my beer out my nose. "You, a Mormon?" He shrugged. "Better than the dumb shit Scientologists." I replied, "What a deal. A religion made up on a bet."
"Amen, Brother." He took a swig.
"What got you into body-building?"
"It got me off the damned farm, didn't it?"
"So what's a Mormon bodybuilder doing out in Santa Rosa?"
"Western division, Mr. America competition."
"Wow! The bigs!" He nodded sideways. "Didn't have much hope of winning, but I was there for contacts and to pay my dues. You?"
I shrugged. "I spent too many years in the military. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I did my best to train up to be a snake eater--a recon specialist. They eventually washed me out for my carrying capacity. I couldn't run two miles carrying two cases of 80mm mortar rounds fast enough. I spent a couple years at a couple U.S. embassies to Italy as a security specialist. After that I put in for an SMOS as an Army Engineer. Explosives, road building, civil engineering, all that shit. The under-the-table payoffs and military chicken shit got to tasting so bad that I didn't re-up. I was out visiting family when it hit."
"Where we headed again?"
"Waco. It's green, rolling and bushy, not all fucking rock and desert like you'd think. I grew up around there, and worked on road crews before I went into the Army. If there's anywhere that I know where and how to survive, that's it." I stretched and pitched my beer bottle into the trash, then went to bed. That was all I wanted to say before I scoped out the situation.
It seemed that as soon as we crossed the border into Texas I was in a dream. Memories started coming back to me--memories that had been so deeply hidden that I hadn't realized that I'd had another life. Everything I knew about my growing up in Texas and what waited for me was a lie. I had resources, albeit primitive ones. I had a place to go. I woke up knowing these things. It scared me that I'd been manipulated so thoroughly. That made me cautious.
After fueling up we took the slower county blacktops, called farm-to-market roads, south east to Waco. Once we hit town I had Virgil pull over at another truck stop. "Now we'll see if my idea is gonna fly. I've got about 600 acres outside of town. We'll have to see what's left of it. If all else fails I'll try to trade it up for a piece of property I know a few miles north."
The need to take possession:
The property shared a border with the north bank of the Brazos river and went north and east to west lake creek road, north of the big power lines and across from the power plant on the lake. There were a couple of shallow lakes on the property. There was still a well and a septic field where the old farmhouse had been taken out by a tornado. When we drove up the potholed old driveway the only thing I saw standing was a concrete block garage under a couple of big 'ol red gum trees and a telephone pole with an old street light on it, connected to nothing. There was brush and scrub trees everywhere, covering the land. Grass grew in clumps, showing the local gravel that passed for dirt in between them. I had Virgil back up to the overhead door with his pickup. I dropped the tailgate and reached up to get the old brass key off a hook. I had to move slowly so as not to piss off the hornets. Once back down on the concrete lip I unlocked the padlock and threw open the overhead door, then ran like hell for the truck cab as the hornets came boiling out like locusts.
After an hour or so I got out and made my way into the garage. There, sitting just inside the door, was a case of spray wasp killer. I snorted to myself. "Outsmarted myself again, dammit." The biggest thing in the place was a mid-sized Kubota tractor with an end-loader attachment on the front and a grader blade on the back. The key was in the ignition but the battery tray was empty, the oil reservoir was empty, the hydraulic reservoir was just as empty and the fuel tank was bone dry. It had been emptied and not just left to turn to varnish. I could tell because the fuel line water trap was clear. I'd need a battery, oil, hydraulic fluid, diesel and an air compressor, not to mention a grease gun to fill all the Zerk points. It had been sitting so long that it might need hoses and tires. It was too soon to tell. I figured that it had been sitting there mothballed some twenty years. There was an empty 55 gallon gas drum and a 55 gallon diesel drum up on a rack, both bone dry. There was a dirty tool bench up against the wall and a barbecue sitting all lonely-like in the corner. The power was out, of course. From the evidence, water had never been run to the building.
The Need to Build:
It wasn't much of a deal to get 220 three phase hundred amp service run to an ag pole (farm distribution pole). After all, the Christly generation plant was across the road! The next project was getting a 60 x 140 foot pole barn either built or moved. At one end it had a big sliding door on a track and a walk-through people-sized door next to it. The county wanted it gone, free for the taking. It took a couple grand to move the nasty old bastard and another few grand to get the barn sprayed with a grey-white rust-stop concoction, inside and out. After it dried I bought a cheap electric sprayer and ran a coat of white epoxy all over the damned building, inside and out, walls and roof. It was darker than sin in there after I got it all painted up. It was gonna be hotter than bejezus, too. We had to mix up some redi-crete to make the door sills. They took a couple days to dry which put a crimp in our progress. We spent a couple nights in the garage on cots.
I climbed up on the roof and took out sixteen galvanized panels, then screwed down green translucent fiberglass sheets, alternating with ag-vents. (Frames that bolted or screwed in where a ceiling panel would go. When a chain got pulled the louvers would open up and a draft fan started. Pull the other chain, they closed.) From there we dumped everything out of the trailer on a tarp in the barn, then went to a home builder place to buy about forty 4" x 4' x 8' Thermax HD panels, a case of tubes of construction adhesive, a grease gun to apply the stuff with and a few rolls of metallized multi-layer strand tape. The site I got the information from was called Hexayurt.org I sprayed down the floor of the barn with a plasticizer and built two big 12' high shelters, one on either side of the barn doors. I set up an outhouse on top of the septic dirt pipe and ran water from the well in no time. (Well, a week or two. This was bachelor work, you understand. A lot of this stuff I learned in the military construction company. Some I just knew to do, like the rust-stop) With a battery farm for each of us and electric heater/fans we put together a kitchen, living rooms and bed rooms, courtesy of Goodwill and AmVets. We had decent places to stay. We put in a little chest freezer and got our little generator ready to take over to power it. As it was, we had it charging two battery farms and had LED light strings stuck here and there on 2x4s. It was primitive but it kept the dust down, the wind out, the rain off and gave us each a little privacy. I bought a propane fired pair of burners to work with and had a pair of eight foot counter tops screwed together back to back up on sawhorses. At one end we had a real beat up stainless steel double sink from a closed down donut shop. We had it up on 2x4s so it wouldn't rock, and had it plumbed into a little thirty gallon water heater that sat under the kitchen counter. That was the only thing that sat down low. Everything else, like pots, pans, dishes, glassware and flatware went up on shelves we had propped up on 2x4 frames that were screwed to the walls of the pole barn. Again, it kept the critters out. We filled up the trailer with bulk foods and left it near the kitchen as a larder. It had a metal shell so we could close it up to keep out said critters.
The two of us spent a week getting that Kubota back in shape. We not only had to get the tires replaced, but the hydraulic cylinder seals had dried up too. We tore everything down. We bought replacements, a battery and fluids at a farm implement place in town. It actually went back together pretty well. Damn, I didn't know a tractor had a crank case that big! The size of the hydraulic reservoir was a surprise, too. We got it runnin', though. It made life a lot easier after I got that driveway graded.
This was Texas--tornado alley. I bought eight steel cables long enough to drape over the building and stretch out at a 45 degree angle, plus a little bit. All the cables got covered in rust-stop, then while wearing heavy leather gloves we greased 'em by hand. With a wrecking bar and some big earth screw eyes Virgil and I first put 2x6s across the building roof to support the cables, then bought screw down clamps to make eyes. Then, after wetting the soil to soften it up some, we screwed in those big ground clamps, angled to best take the load from the building trying to fly away. Then we fastened the cables to the screw-eyes and gave them another turn to snug up the cables. Our last step was to dump loads of gravel against the walls of the building up to six to eight feet high, just enough to cover the cable bottoms.
Soon I had another door in the far end of the barn and another wall installed. Then we set up a chicken house. I had to buy an automatic chicken waterer and a few bales of straw for their nests. We couldn't just keep them indoors all the time. We cobbled together a couple chicken runs to let them peck and forage. Every season I'd move the gate to swap runs, letting the alternate one recover. A little water and scattered chicken shit brought the greenery right up. With just a few hens it didn't take too much grain to keep us in fresh eggs. I shelled out the money for another cheap box trailer. We got it filled with bags of chicken feed and crushed clam shells. We damned near busted the axle getting it back to the place. It was our granary.
I dug out my old Texas drivers license and got it refreshed. Then I put up a mail box on a pole out by the road. I was surprised as hell to find out that Verizon had wireless service out to the ranch. I picked up a cheap, brain-dead cell phone at the fuel stop-n-shop, along with a couple cards with minutes on 'em. I figured to keep one card around for emergencies.
Virgil had grown up as a farm boy, just like I grew up on the ranch. We both knew that there was always something to do.
I had a feeling that we should take the pickup over to the truck stop on the interstate. It looked like moving day at a college town. People were milling around, trying to make deals, doing anything they could to find enough money to get somewhere else. I saw a guy with a thirty foot vacation trailer writing out a "for sale--cash only" sign. I wandered over and asked him how much. His eyes slowly wandered over the thing. "Can you give me two fifty?"
"Yep. No problem. Got a title?"
"Sure. Let me pack some clothes and things out first, wouldja?"
"I wouldn't kick a man when he's down. Take your time, take what you want."
By that night we had our first trailer. Two days later we had another. People just wanted gas money to get away and I kept buying up house trailers. I stopped going out there when we had seventeen of the things. The people just kept coming but I didn't see the sense in collecting any more.
We chose a couple of the nicer units to claim for ourselves and moved 'em into place near the kitchen. We had to run vent pipes from the trailers up to holes I cut in the pole barn walls, up high under the eaves. The trailers had air conditioning and a couple even had laundry facilities. That was nice. I ran the grey water lines out to the same place that I used for the kitchen sink--a dry wash a little ways away from the farmyard.
Since we had such nice places to stay in, the Thermax hexayurts got relegated to storage. We kept buying grain, rice, beans, oatmeal, raisins, peanut butter, jelly, salt, spices and distilled alcohol--the drinking kind. It would maker great trade goods in a few years. The spices and such that would go bad or go flat went into another chest freezer.
A package showed up in our mail box. Hell, I hadn't even been watching for mail to show up. It was from some legal firm in Waco. I checked my cell phone. It was Thursday morning. Monday was time enough for legal issues. I okayed it with Virgil, then made an appointment for Monday morning. I still had several trailers to inventory.
We tried to keep track of everything so we didn't go off and buy something we already had. All the tools, nuts, bolts, screws and washers were collected and sorted in the garage. I made shelves and labelled everything. All the clothes were collected, sorted by season and size, then stored in small garbage bags up off the ground. The food was all brought to one place and inventoried. Likewise towels, washclothes and bedding. We even found a few firearms--shotguns, mostly along with a few hand-me-down relics that obviously hadn't seen any care or use in a generation. Those I boxed up to take to town, hopefully to sell. The scatter guns we kept if they were 12 gauge. I hoped that shells were still available.
Monday morning we used the chain hoist to load the fuel barrels into the truck. In town we could get them filled and pick up a couple manual fuel pumps. The seals on the old ones had dried out. It wasn't worth the effort to fix 'em. I had Virgil head over to the farm implement place, as they opened early. We needed more grease and I was looking for a plow to set some potatoes. You can live on potatoes if you have to. Add chickens and you're living like a king in most places around the world. I'd want a cart for the tractor too and some hand tools like shovels, hoes and garden rakes. They had some good quality water hoses for sale that I picked up too. After my appointment I wanted to go to the hardware store for some plumbing supplies. I wanted to run a hot and cold line with valves to near the kitchen so we could put together a communal laundry. I had a feeling that we'd be having more people move onto the ranch with us soon.
When I got to the law offices they sat me down in front of a guy so old that his wrinkles had wrinkles. Oh, he was serious as hell. He wore an old style black suit that was probably in style when he passed his bar exam, along with a quarter inch wide grosgrain strip tied into a necktie over a starched white shirt. He laid his hands flat on the table and proceeded to examine me. Finally he spoke. "What is your full name?"
Now, that got me to feeling mean. Nobody, but nobody got my full name. "Nope." He faintly smiled. "Tell me the rest when I stop. Thomas Thaddeus James Jeremiah--" I finished it. "Bolt-Baker. There. You happy now? The wind has my name to conjure with." He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Nobody from around here would dare. You are my nephew, thrice removed. We each represent the end of a tremendously long, powerful blood line." He tapped some papers on the table with his forefinger. "I noticed that you have taken possession of the Brazos river property. Good. The taxes have been kept up on it through a trust. It will be maintained so for quite a while." He stopped once again and just looked at me. "As you can see, I am not long for this world, despite our bloodline being an extremely long-lived one. I had my man bring a chest for you today as part of your inheritance. I also have a paper for you to sign to give you access to a portion of the family funds. When I pass on there will be an old house for you near the north edge of town. I warn you, several spirits there will not accept you lightly. You had best read the journal within the chest." He pushed two sheets of paper towards me which I signed, then he signed. One of which he returned to me. "Take this to the bank across the street. The manager will know what to do." He rose and shook my hand. "Nephew Thomas. I am glad that you have returned in time. Perhaps the disaster this land is undergoing will provide an advantage for you, one which you no doubt have not envisioned yet. Merry part."
I reflexively replied, "Merry part to meet again." He faintly smiled, turned away to slowly limp down the hallway. What a curious thing. Only then did I notice a metal covered chest the size of a foot locker sitting next to the door. I picked it up by the handle like a suitcase and walked out to the street where Virgil waited. I easily hefted it into the bed of the truck whereupon the springs sank on that side by several inches. Damned curious.
The bank was an old independent Texas bank with a state charter going back to before the Civil War. The branch manager looked at me as if I were a dog turd to be scraped off of his boot until I presented my uncle's document. Then he got real polite, real fast. I was presented with a bank book to an account and a big farm-style checkbook. After looking at the balances I quietly blinked. I'd not seen that much money in one place before. I nodded my thanks to the man and walked out. This was too much in my hands to have dangling in the wind. I showed the checking account balance to Virgil and he gave a long whistle. "Somebody likes you."
"Family legacy. That's the good part. I think the bad part's in that trunk in the back."
"Want to lose it at the side of the road?"
I shook my head. "I think this kind of trouble would come crawling back to hunt me down."
We went to the South Side Mall where I picked up a brief case to hold the check book and account book. I picked up a ruled notebook, a receipt book, a calculator, a two hundred buck digital camera and a few pens. There was just enough room for a little bitty laptop, too. Then we headed for the farm supply store. I got a couple fans for the chicken house and a "No Trespassing" sign for up at the gate. They had a used three-bottom plow, an 8x8 single-axle cart which would track behind the tractor's drive wheels and the hand tools I wanted. Someone had left a 250cc dirt bike there on consignment. I picked it up as it would be the best thing to run around on the ranch, this side of a horse. I figured that I might pick up a four-wheeler with a little bed later, but 250 bucks for that bike was too good a deal to pass up. The bike went into the back of the truck. The rest of my purchases they'd deliver within 2 days. I was okay with it. At the gas station I had the tanks filled and I bought the parts I wanted for the bike--air filter, oil filter and spark plugs. A couple cans of oil and I was good to go.
I got to thinking about all that scrub. I got an idea to cut it back from the house and yard lest a fire take us out. I bought a little chain saw, a mixing gas can, a spare spark plug and a sharpening file for the blade. I asked that it be delivered with the cart and plow. Virgil wanted a couple battery operated drills, some grinding bits, a cut-off saw, a double handful of discs, a small MIG welding setup, a welder's hood, wire, gloves and an apron. I could see the use for a welding rig on the ranch. I knew how to use one too. I had no problem shelling out for the clamps, wire, an inert gas torpedo, hoses and a cart for it, as well as the filled welding cart.
We filled the truck, the bike and the fuel drums and picked up a few gallon jugs of oil, had dinner at a chicken place and headed home.
The need to remember:
Virgil headed off to the garage to set up a welding station and make room for the new implements while I hauled the trunk into "my" yurt for a little privacy. It still held a bed, bedside stand, table and chairs. I set the furniture against the walls, keeping out only the table and a chair. Some time in my youth I'd had pounded into my head how to set wards. I used a string and peg to draw a little trench all around the inside of the yurt, perfectly circular. The next few things happened as if I were a puppet. I lay my hand on the center of the top of the chest. It opened. A small leather bag lay on top of everything else. I took it in hand and poured the five stones within onto my palm. I sorted through them and put them in a particular order with the scratches on the surface facing just so, then blew a pitch pipe that sat with the bag. I didn't say a thing. It was all done by symbol and ritual. The inside of the yurt felt like I was in a dirt hollow, under a ball of tree roots, dry and warm during a rainstorm, protected and safe.
I began to take out the trunk's contents and place them on the table. Within I found a black floor-length linen robe with a deep hood, an un-tarnished silver cup, a green stone in a silver mesh bag set up to be a necklace, a double-edged silver knife with a short guard, a staff in three pieces, a well-scribed narrow silver sword and five larger five-sided stones. I knew what I had to do. The ritual had started with my ward closure. I stripped and went to sleep on the ground. The next step was to be taken at dawn.
I rose before first light, dressed in the robe and put on the rope belt holding the sword and dagger. I carried the first stone out to an edge of the property as that stone was marked with the first sigil. I went back to the farmyard, took a deep drink of water, peed seemingly forever, drank again and went back to sleep. This happened five times on five consecutive dawns. On the sixth morning I took up a huge single-tone pipe from the bottom of the chest and walked to the dead center of the ranch. I sat cross-legged and breathed deeply until dawn's first light struck me. Then I blew that note on and on and on. I knew that the stones were aligning and burying themselves. The wards were complete. I sat there panting as a light mist, then a gentle rain began to fall. I sat there with a goofy grin plastered to my face, sitting in the warm rain. I could begin to feel the ground greening up around me. Creakily, I rose and trudged back to the yurt. At the time I didn't notice the new flat stone that lay where I had been sitting.
I removed my regalia and robe, then put them back in the chest. I wandered out to the outhouse, naked and had the dump of my life. Then I took a shower and went to bed.
The next morning I woke up ravenous. I powered through half a dozen fried eggs and a plate full of fried potatoes. I looked outside and saw green as far as I could see. I felt incredibly happy. I dragged a chair outside to sit in the morning sun and drink a glass of cold water. I felt fantastic! So this was what it felt to be a caretaker! I could feel what grew where, how well it was growing and what was needed. I knew that the pole barn was but a stop-gap measure, adequate for visitors and tenants but not what was needed for the homestead. But first, I had some potatoes to plant and knew the perfect place for them. There was a gentle slope next to the river where they would flourish. A several acre plot not far from there would make a fine vegetable garden too.
I got dressed, took the blade off the tractor, mounted the plow, filled the diesel tank and greased all the fittings. Then I headed off for the river.
I angled the plow to make ridges as I covered the field. After plowing four acres I stopped on the rise, looking back down at the plot I'd just covered. I nodded. The potatoes would need a bit of irrigation but that was easily enough done. The implement dealer had a rotary pump that would attach to the tractor's PTO. I could use the Brazos for the little water I'd need, with a good silt filter over the water take-up. I looked at the river bank and thought it barren. It needed some trees. Cottonwoods. Yes. Male cottonwoods wouldn't send seed fluff everywhere while their fast-growing root systems would anchor the soil in a single season. Perhaps later, some pecans and pears, maybe even apples. They would do well.
The need to consolidate:
We had to go back into town for the cut spuds but I hated to make the trip for just one thing. I looked up Virgil to see if he had anything in mind. I cast out for him. He was in the garage. I found him sitting on a bench, drinking a beer and looking out at the greenery. He looked spooked. I sat down next to him on the bench. "What's wrong, Virgil? You look troubled."
"That's what I'd like to know. What's wrong. What did you do, Tom? You, this place--it all changed. It doesn't feel the same. It's--I don't know--creepy-alive. Aware. I don't feel safe here anymore."