Authors: e a lake
She sat on one side of me as Hope took a place opposite of her. “We don’t eat anymore, Bob. We don’t have to.”
I stuffed the meat in my mouth and chewed. Waiting for the flavor to caress my palate, I smiled at her. “Why don’t you eat? You mean you ate earlier?”
“No,” she replied, stroking my hand, kissing my moving lips again.
Only then did I realize that the steak had no taste. Leaning forward, I inhaled the steam from the meat, potatoes and vegetables. Nothing registered.
I looked back at Hope, but now she appeared tired and worn. Dark circles appeared where none were only moments ago. A glance at Violet showed the same. I spit the meat back onto the plate.
Shaking my head, I spun to face Violet. “What’s going on here? Where is everyone? Why doesn’t anything have taste or smell?”
I pulled at her hands while she smiled back at me. I noticed her teeth were gray and split. Several were missing.
“We’re all dead, Bob,” she answered in a placid tone. “You weren’t here to protect us. We all died. Lettie and Libby first. Then Daisy. Hope and I held out as long as we could, but those mean men killed us in the end.”
“What about me?!” I yelled, now able to get a decent breath into my lungs.
Hope stroked my shoulder. “You never recovered from your wounds, Daddy. You died, too. Come outside and I’ll show you where we buried everyone.”
In an instant, we were standing by the road, the three of us holding hands. But their hands were boney now and even my skin had begun to gray.
In front of us were dozens of tombstones. I counted six rows of eight, far too many for just the few of us.
“That one is Libby’s,” Hope said, noting the far one towards the end. “And there’s Daisy’s, and Dizzy’s, and Frank’s.”
She led me by the hand as the rows and markers grew in numbers.
“Your mom and dad are buried over here,” she continued. She may have been dying in front of me, but Hope’s voice was as sweet as the winds through the pines. “Bud, his wife and children are back there. And here’s yours.”
The ground was all dead and full of bugs burrowing up to the surface. According to what I could tell, I’d been dead for a while.
“Where’s Violet’s, and yours, Hope?” I asked somberly.
Violet took my hand and led me across the road, deep into the woods.
“We died here,” she said, pointing at an area covered with shrubs and moss. “We have no graves, no markers. This is where they left us.”
What life was inside of my soul moments before had left me. “I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I’m so sorry.”
Violet kissed my bare arm. “It’s okay, darling. Chester and his family had a feast with what was left of us. It’s the way it needed to be.”
Staring at the spot, I realized suddenly that I was alone. Violet and Hope had left me. I moved brush and noticed a few dulled white bones to my left. Behind them, a wolf, perhaps Chester, chewed on a ball.
My death led to the downfall of my family. Not just my blood family, or Shelly, but everyone. I was a fool for risking their lives for my selfish motives. But there was no way to change it.
Day 1,055 - continued
“Sweetheart, are you all right?”
Daisy’s voice caused me to jump, returning me to the present, away from my nightmare. I stared at her, memorizing each pore of her skin, every lash above her eyes, the small gaps between her tiny teeth.
“Yeah,” I answered, shaking away my fright. “Just thinking of a weird dream I had a few nights back, that’s all.”
“I brought you some water,” she continued, sitting next to me and opposite Libby. She smiled graciously and gazed at the beautiful day surrounding us. “The flies aren’t too bad for you, are they?”
I smiled at her as well. “No, not bad at all. And my little helper here is doing a good job keeping away the few that show up.”
She circled an arm through mine. “I’m so glad you’re feeling better. I was worried about you.” She kissed my arm gently. “A few more weeks and you should be as good as new.”
Yeah, two more weeks of sitting around, watching others do the jobs I should be doing. Not my way.
“Any word from Wilson as to the Barster gang?” I asked.
I felt her head dig in deeper to my arm; her squeeze tightening. “No,” she replied softly, almost sounding upset. “He’s had his boys check and no one has seen hide nor hair of them.”
Together we watched Lettie and Violet in the garden. On their hands and knees, each plucking whatever few weeds they could find. I was amazed that even with this crappy soil, Lettie was a master at her trade.
“I suppose that’s good,” I continued with the subject that caused Daisy’s distress. “Maybe they all bought the farm up in Covington. Or maybe they moved on.”
I felt her nod against my arm, her hold on it still as tight. “Yes,” she whispered, “maybe they’ve moved on.”
We ate a late dinner by candlelight. The warm glow lit the room to an almost viewable state. The cool night air crept in slowly, forcing the day’s warmth away.
“Garden’s looking good,” I said to my silent tablemates. “Should have the first harvest of vegetables soon from what I saw today.”
A few nods as a reply, but nothing more. No one dared to peek at me, their eyes focused on their plates.
“Hopefully I can start splitting wood again within a day or two,” I added, trying to sound twice as jovial as the group deserved. “Maybe I’ll just start by stacking the stuff I cut before the shoot-out. That’s probably best. Don’t want to push it too hard at first.”
A few more nods.
Lettie finally looked up at me. “Violet and Daisy stacked that crap a few days back,” she said, picking at something in her teeth. “You just rest until you’re fully healed.”
My turn to nod and smile.
I was sick of resting and they all knew it.
“I’m gonna say something,” Violet stated in a firm tone, “and I don’t want anyone to bite my head off when I do.” The last few eyes came up from their picked at food.
“Vi, I know what you’re going to say—” Daisy tried to begin. But the teen cut her off.
“I heard you talking today,” Violet began her rant. “I heard what you said. And I’m going to give you my opinion.”
Crossing my arms, I pushed back from my spot.
This should be good
, I thought.
She rose from her place and began by pointing a finger my way. “You are not going after that gang. Not now, not in a few weeks, not ever. And that needs to be the end of the discussion.”
I rolled my eyes and caught her vicious stare. “Oh,” she continued, “I don’t get a say in this? Wanna bet? I have a daughter now. She deserves to be protected.”
Daisy jumped up and was quickly at her side, pulling on her arm. “Now Vi, we don’t need to discuss this. At least not for a while. Please don’t upset yourself. It’s not worth it.”
The girl spun on her friend. “Tell him how you feel, Daisy. Tell him what you told me last week.”
That piqued my interest. “Yeah Daisy, tell me how you feel,” I said.
She turned and faced me, fighting back tears with a watery smile. “I just think,” she paused, taking a deep breath, “maybe if we talked about it. Perhaps, Bob…” The words came in sputters, forced.
“She thinks you’re an idiot if you go after that gang,” Violet spewed. “She doesn’t want to see you die either.”
I nodded slightly at Daisy. “Is that what you think?”
She came towards me, crouching beside my chair. “I never said you were an idiot. What I told Violet,” she peeked back at the scowling girl, “is that, in my mind, it was a foolish thing for you to try. That’s all. Just how I feel about it.”
“And Lettie?” Violet added, seething a little less now.
The old woman shrugged. “You damn near get killed every year in your own front yard. Can’t see where you need to run off to do it again, somewhere else this time. That’s all.”
I fumed silently for a few moments. “So you’re all against me going and taking care of this, instead of fighting this battle at our own home?”
Violet nodded in an exaggerated fashion. Daisy smiled, Lettie shrugged again.
“I can’t promise anything,” I said, keeping my voice low. I wanted to scream at them all. I wanted to bang some sense into their thick skulls. However, I also didn’t want to wake the baby or frighten Libby. “But at least I know how you all feel. I appreciate your honesty.”
“We just want you safe,” Daisy said, kissing my cheek.
“We just want you here,” Violet added, taking her place again.
And I just wanted this over with, one way or another. But that would be a delicate sell. And that would require another week of rehab and several more discussions with the most stubborn people in No Where.
Our food supply was meager. Without my hunting prowess and not much from the garden yet, we were low on rations again. Unfortunately, the only thing Wilson was in good supply of was protein. And while that kept us alive, we needed something besides meat in our diet.
Lettie had little Libby pick as many dandelions as she could each and every day. The smiling girl would pick a bucket, then a second (and sometimes a third) and Lettie would thank her with a kiss and grand praise. What the old woman did with the greens gagged me, but we needed it.
In a pot of bubbling water, Lettie placed the green leaves and boiled them into a stew. It was really more of a sticky thick broth, but calling it stew made it edible. Every evening, we all had to gag a bowl of steaming hot dandelion green down our unwilling throats. And none were pleased.
“Oh my, these are even bitterer than the last batch,” Daisy grimaced between bites of pork, bread and tiny spoonful of the stew. “There has to be a way to take away some of the bitterness.”
Lettie pondered this, her face scrunched. “There are several ingredients to add. If I had my cupboard back at my old place, I could come up with something.” She scooped a large spoonful of green slime into her mouth, swallowing it with great effort. “But that’s all gone, so you’ll have to make the best of it.”
Violet pushed her bowl away. “I’d rather die than eat another bite of this shit.” Lettie seemed unoffended by the teen’s terse words.
“Now Vi,” Daisy started, “we can’t have little Hope growing up without a mother. So you’ll have to force it down somehow.”
Libby played with a piece of bread at her spot. “I can’t eat mine. They make me want to throw up.”
I couldn’t blame the child. I had to fight the bile back with each spoonful. There had to be more, something perhaps even palatable, that nature had to offer.
“Tomorrow we’ll go searching for fiddle-head ferns and wild mushrooms,” Lettie offered, wiping her mouth and grinning at the green residue on her cloth napkin. “And we need Thaddeus to show up with some soap pretty soon as well. We all stink and our clothes ain’t much better.”
, I thought.
So very true.
I had bathed shortly after my return to the world as we knew it. The others had forgone any sort of luxury so that I could do so. Considering their other option — bathing me while passed out — Violet had thrown the biggest hissy fit she could. Something about been there, done that, paid the dues, she claimed.
We were alive, but just barely. At best, we were surviving, but again, just barely. We needed something more, and I knew that was something we all prayed for every night.
Leaning on a shovel, not doing any actual work, I watched Wilson saunter up the road from the south. In his hand was a small bag, maybe the size of an old grocery bag. He wore a worried frown.
“Glad to see you upright again,” he called out in his usual easy way. “Last time I checked in on you, I thought we’d need to dig a hole.”
I laughed slightly, staring at the bag. “What’d you bring us?”
He nodded once at the sack. “Boys shot a couple geese late yesterday. Nate actually got one this time. We kept his. Rite of passage to eat your first kill. But this is what Jimmy and Johnny shot.”
Watching as he placed the bag on the ground, I wondered what else might be on his mind. He wasn’t the chatty kind, but he usually had more to say than the basic details.
I decided to ease into the topic though. “Haven’t asked lately; how’s Nate doing?”
Wiping his face, he looked away. “That boy is fine, growing up a lot. Missed his Ma at first, but now I can hardly keep him at the table. If he isn’t hunting or trapping, he’s doing chores in the barn, or tending the garden.”
I’d have to remember to mention that to Violet. Though she never did ask at all about her little brother, or her mother, for that matter.
“What’s got you with the worried look, if I can ask?” So much for waiting.
He first glanced at the house, then both directions on the road. Before he began, he crept in close. This had to be good, I figured.
“Got a problem,” he said quietly. “Kinda a big one. Had some neighbors to the east, maybe eight miles or so. Couple days ago I went to trade them some milk for cheese. Didn’t like what I found.”
I felt my chest tighten. “What was that?”
Again, he peeked at the house. “Place had been robbed, picked clean,” he answered in a deep tone. His eyes met mine. “And I found every last family member dead inside, all six of them. Shot in the chest.”
I sucked in sharply and let it out slowly between pursed lips. “That’s not good.”
His head shook. “Nope. I went and warned several other families in that same area. None of them had seen any trouble in the least bit. But one fellow told me something peculiar he’d found.”
I waited for him to continue. Instead, his dark eyes bore into mine.
“What’s that?” I finally asked, not knowing if I really wanted the answer or not.
“Something he found on the road,” Wilson continued. “Something you’re going to find interesting. And you ain’t gonna like it.”
I knew exactly what he was going to say, even before the words formed on his lips.
“Horse shit,” we added, simultaneously.
“I know what he said.” My tablemates each gave me condescending looks and went back to their meal. That pissed me off more. “Wilson saw it first hand; you can ask him when he comes back.”