Authors: Robert Schobernd
Doc smiled feebly. "Don't get too carried away there; two of those babies died in the first year. Barlow and Shandrea Jones lost theirs and Merriam Pitchford's baby died. No one knows who fathered Merriam's child and she never told. Guess she was too embarrassed to say."
"It doesn't matter. There have always been single parents and always will be, I guess. The problems with raising kids alone are much more difficult now though because there are no formal welfare programs. The mothers have to depend on the generosity of their relatives and neighbors." I waited for Doc's response. When there was none, I looked at him. His eyes were closed and his labored breathing was steady. After ten minutes or so, I put my coat on and let myself out.
Near the end of February, we welcomed a break in the weather. The temperature was twenty-eight in the morning and reached forty-eight before dark. I hoped the worst of the unusually cold winter was past. Our area wasn't supposed to see extended periods of near ten degree Fahrenheit temperatures.
We were asleep in our beds when a pounding on the door roused the entire family. I glanced at the wind-up clock as I swung my legs out of bed; it was one-thirty a.m.
"Tom, Tom, please wake up. I need help. "A woman's voice faintly called to me through the two-inch-thick wood door.
I blinked several times to clear my vision while I lit a bedside candle. With the candle holder in my left hand, I stumbled across our public room in my shorts toward the barred door. A .45 caliber Glock was gripped tightly in my right hand. Kira covered my back and kept the kids behind her. "Who's there?" I queried.
"Kelly, Kelly Pitchford," came the muted reply.
I laid the candle and handgun on the table. As soon as the cross bars were pulled, I flung the door open. Kelly entered. She was clearly upset, but also seemed nervous and apprehensive. A blast of cold air pushed inside. I guessed the temperature was near or below freezing again. The door closed as we waited for an explanation.
"It's Jesse. He's missing, left the house about a half hour ago and we can't find him."
"Who is we?” I asked.
Our family: Morgan, Verlie, Merriam, Vernon and Molly. We've looked all over and can't find him. He'll freeze if he's hurt or asleep."
I started to turn then stopped and stared at Kelly. "Asleep? Why the hell would he be asleep outdoors at this time of night?"
Sheepishly she mumbled, "Jesse was drinking, and we had a fight. He was mad and left in a huff without a coat."
"What was he drinking?"
"Who did he get it from?"
"I don't know." She said sheepishly. It was plain to see she was hedging.
"That's bullshit, Kelly. Who?" I was sure she knew and stood unmoving as I grilled her.
The anguish on her face said she didn't want to say. "Jesse makes it," slid out of her mouth.
"So you want help finding him. Have you checked both barns?"
"Yes, he's not there."
"Go wake Shane while we dress. We'll be right out. Ring the emergency bell, and then make sure everyone else gets up. He's been gone too long already, and we'll need all the adults we have."
Kira and I dressed, and ran the kids back to their beds.
We went to the torch shed. In the distance, we saw multiple flames held high blowing in the breeze as Morgan's family searched for his son-in-law.
Inside the six-foot-square building sat an open-top fifty-five gallon steel drum with close to a foot of contaminated diesel fuel in the bottom. A multitude of four-foot-long wood poles stuck above the top rim of the barrel. Layers of natural fiber burlap were wired to one end of the poles. Kira and I each took two torches and lit one. Several others had been taken already, so I grabbed fresh ones from a rack and dumped the burlap ends into the fuel.
Within twenty minutes the entire camp had turned out to search for Jesse. Fifteen minutes later, Morgan and Molly yelled he was found. Under heavy questioning, they said he took a path that would take him to his whiskey still, two ridges and a mile from our cabins. It was a wonder he hadn't died from hypothermia. I guessed then that Morgan had a good idea of where Jesse was headed.
At two-forty-five we were all back in our beds. Not pleased, but in our beds.
Before dawn I was up again. Forty-five minutes later, Shane and I trudged over the ridges in the direction Jesse was headed hours earlier. I toted a twelve-pound sledge hammer on my shoulder, and Shane carried a double bit axe. It took another hour to locate the hollow where Jesse hid his whiskey operation. It was a tranquil spot under trees with a small clear stream running through the middle of it.
As I smashed the copper cooking pot and copper tubing that cooled the vapors, I told Shane, "I feel like a 1920s Federal Revenue Agent raiding one of Al Capone's suppliers." In minutes, swinging the sledge warmed me to the point the coat had to come off. When I'd inflicted all the damage I could on the main equipment, bottles and jars were emptied of their clear but potent contents and then laid aside to be reused for other foods.
That was the easy part. Confronting Jesse and dealing with his rant could be much more traumatic if he had the balls to defend his actions. I knew he'd had help getting the equipment that deep into the forest and wondered if his accomplices and customers would stand by him when they learned of its destruction. It also occurred to me that Morgan might be complacent in the unauthorized enterprise since he'd been making wine without the committee's formal approval, and he knew what trail to search for Jesse when he wasn't in the barns.
As soon as we were back home, I called a meeting of the Leadership Committee. Shane, Morgan, John, Andrea Margherio, and Richard assembled in the horse barn before I started.
"All of you were out earlier this morning while we roamed the area searching for a sleeping drunk in freezing weather. Jesse has been operating a whiskey still, and Morgan has been making wine." I paused to point my finger as I slowly moved my arm to encompass each of them. "What do YOU propose to do about both issues?"
Muttering ensued as most of the other officers, except Shane and Richard, danced from one foot to the other or breathed deeply as their frames slumped. I was sure everyone was aware of the alcohol production and had turned a blind eye to it as I had. I waited. Shane and Richard seemed to be the only members who didn't shy away from solving the problem.
Morgan straightened. "I've given wine to each of you and didn't hear any complaints about the taste or my making it. We've all ignored it, and I'd like it to continue making the wine. It's a hobby to me, and I'll see that no one gets enough to become intoxicated."
I jumped into the conversation. "This is a big change to our rules. Is everyone sure you want to make that change?" There were nods and two raised their eyelids.
Richard said, "Morgan, Carmen and I don't care for wine of any type. We still have the bottle you gave us, so please don't bring us more."
John Alton looked concerned. "I was okay with what was going on because it hadn't caused any problems, but now I'm worried we've set a bad precedent by looking the other way. I vote to let Morgan make wine. It's low alcohol content. But if it causes problems, we'll readdress the issue. On the other hand, the whiskey still should be shut down. I'm sure it's a primitive operation, and I doubt Jesse has a way to control the alcohol content. After his performance last night, it's clear he has a drinking problem and others may be developing one."
Heads nodded. "I need a show of hands. Those for allowing the making and distribution of wine." Five hands raised. "Those against the wine proposal." No hands rose. I didn't vote either way. “All those in favor of re-establishing the ban on making whiskey and beer.” Six hands raised and held steady.
"Thank you. Before this meeting, Shane and I found the whiskey still and destroyed it; Jesse is out of business." I hesitated before focusing on Morgan. "If Jesse insists on starting another still, he'll be asked to leave our group. This is not a small matter."
Morgan nodded glumly.
A week later, I opened Doc's door and stepped inside. It was the third day of March. Kira had calendars extending through 2075. She'd printed them off a computer file before we finally were forced to abandon power generation. She continued to protect them and kept them in a safe place where the kids wouldn't destroy them. I'd learned it really didn't matter what day of the week it was, we had the same work to do regardless of the date or the name of a day. But it felt good for some reason to know what month and year it was. Each day, Kira religiously marked off a day of the week on the calendar so she always knew what day, month and year it was. In the near future, knowledge of that simple bit of information would slip away and be lost for many centuries. But life would go on without it.
When I removed my coat and sat a few minutes, the temperature was noticeably cool. Doc's breathing changed as I made noise stoking the fire and adding wood.
His eyes opened as I greeted him. "Morning Doc."
He grimaced in pain and a low grunt escaped his dry lips. His breathing rate increased as he said, "Tom."
"Can I get anything for you? Water? Maybe something to eat?"
"A little water, please."
He swallowed an ounce or so from a glass and then motioned it away. I sat it on the nightstand next to the bed, then sat.
"Has anything come to a head yet with that bunch of damn liberal pacifists?"
"I didn't know you were aware of that, but no they've not surfaced their concerns to me."
Doc's features hardened. "They don't have concerns, it's complaints. Don't let them put anything over on you or they'll get us all killed. Stand up to their lunacy."
"What do you know about their demands?"
"I used to respect John Alton, but no more. He comes in and sits once in a while...can't stand the man anymore. I've taken to acting like I'm asleep, but I struggle to stay awake and listen. He starts talking to me, using me for a sounding board, I guess. Seems the most liberal are pushing him to confront you about the heavy weapons you still have. Those radicals want them gone. We've not endured any real danger since moving here, and they believe we're safe and can negotiate any danger away. Some have turned into mush-headed fools."
"I agree, Doc. You can only negotiate when both parties have similar end goals. When one wants to be left alone to live in peace, and the other wants to take everything they have, negotiation goes out the window and you get oppression."
Doc breathed deeply several times, shuddered, then was still. His eyes blinked open again. "I turned sixty-five this year. In the life we had before, I'd have surgery early on, radiation or chemo and strong medicines after. I could have recovered to live another twenty-years or more. Those damn'd zombies took that from me. The great strides in medicine made over past generations, hell even centuries, are gone. Wiped out by the damned zombie invasion. The girls use the wild herbs and plants we've gathered to fight the pain, but they're not effective, not like the pharmaceuticals were." Doc closed his eyes and relaxed. His eyelids fluttered several times, his breathing leveled to a slow, raspy, shallow rhythm. I waited as I watched a great friend I was about to lose. Soon, I rose quietly, slipped into my jacket and left.
Outside the cabin, I leaned against the log wall, exhaled deeply, and watched the moisture in my breath be absorbed by the cold, dry air. Years ago, before the zombie invasion, I'd cursed the stupidity of immigrants coming here to escape harsh conditions in their home lands. Soon after arriving, they'd start petitioning to implement the same conditions they'd escaped because that was what they'd grown up with, and they were comfortable with it. Somehow they hadn't grasped that those laws and religious beliefs were the root causes of the very conditions they wanted to escape.
Religion, huh! How many cases had been exposed where leaders in the Catholic Church conspired to protect pedophile priests who had attacked their young parishioners? How many times had numerous televangelists stood in front of cameras and cried and blubbered as they begged forgiveness after being caught in bed with some woman or man? How many young Muslim women had been victims of honor killings because their conversion to American ways made them unfit to live in the eyes of their fanatically religious fathers and brothers?
And Jim Jones; the conman preacher who convinced nine-hundred members of his flock to follow him to South America where he fed them cyanide laced cool-aid to help them commit suicide. Over three-hundred of them were innocent children
I shook my head, attempted to get the foul taste from my mouth by spitting a glob on the ground, pushed away from the wall, and walked to the mechanical and blacksmith shop.
Albert stood near the forge hammering a piece of orange glowing steel on an anvil to shape it into a part he was making. On the other side of the shop, Vince held a hand-powered breast drill against his chest, leaning into it as he cranked the handle to turn a drill bit. Small bits of metal flowed from the hole he drilled in a thick piece of flat stock. I grinned, I'd heard the ancient looking drill called an eggbeater drill, and the name fit perfectly. I removed my gloves and opened my coat. The shop was warm. It was a great place to be in the winter, but hell in the hot summer humidity. Both tradesmen acknowledged me with a nod and a smile but continued to work, so after a while I zipped my coat, pulled on the gloves and left.