Authors: Robert Schobernd
We stood outside in moderate temperature under a partly cloudy sky. The pacifists began entering the horse barn. Minutes passed until John clanged the bell loudly several times. Kira looked at me with a mean smirk, and then she told our kids we were moving to the barn.
Inside, chairs had been arranged eight chairs wide by six rows deep between the stalls. Five chairs for the Leadership Committee sat in front of the main group and faced them. Andrea, Morgan, John and Richard were already seated there. Most of the smaller kids had run to the other end to play. I studied the crowd, and it appeared everyone was present.
"This special session has been called without my prior knowledge, so I'll ask John to preside and let us all in on why we're here."
I sat, and John stood to speak. "At the last group meeting, I laid out the feelings of the majority of our people. Most of us stopped wearing sidearms several years ago because we don't feel it fits the lifestyle we want to live. Others continue to carry weapons openly; we want that practice stopped. Additionally, there remains a large amount of heavy weaponry; we want those disposed of, also. To achieve those goals, an earlier meeting was held by a majority of the adults in this group." He turned to face me and glanced at Richard. "The first order of business was to vote to eject two members of the Leadership Committee and elect two new members to take their places. Tom, you and Richard are no longer members of the committee. Please move and take seats with the other members. Jesse and Martin Sr. are the new committee members."
I glanced at Kira as I smirked. It was hard to believe they'd chosen to replace me and Richard with a lazy, obnoxious slacker like Jesse.
There were loud murmurings drowned by shouts from my supporters. I stood and raised both arms to secure silence. "I want a show of hands of the adults who supported this move."
Only a few hands shot up; others rose more tentatively. I counted nineteen. Glen Whycoff and Barlow Jones chastised their adult sons but Able Jones and Allen Whycoff held out and would not raise their hands. Able was angry as he argued against his father's demand. It was the first time I'd ever heard the young man curse. Both young Whycoffs appeared embarrassed by their father's attempts to intimidate them. The younger boy, Adam, finally raised his hand.
"Okay, you control the majority vote. I'll accept what you've done, but it was sneaky." I took a vacant seat in the front row next to Kira. Her anger and contempt for the officers was apparent as she frowned and gritted her teeth.
John spoke to me from where the Leadership Committee sat in a row like birds on a wire, "Then you will comply with the new rules?"
I viewed him harshly and snorted. "Hell no. I most definitely will not comply with the stupidity you people have imposed. My family will be leaving as soon as we locate a new homesite."
John jumped to attention. Surprise was evident in his expression. "That's not necessary if you simply agree to follow the new rules the majority has passed."
"I will never agree to place my family's lives and freedom in jeopardy. As for the heavy weapons, they will remain locked in the armory until we move. They've been there for five years, and another month or two won't make a difference." I scanned all five committee members. "Do you all accept that?"
Morgan and Andrea conferred, but Jesse bellowed, "No I don't. The intent is to remove them now."
I felt Jesse's stance on the weapons issue had more to do with his feelings toward me than the firearms ban.
Martin Sr. said, "I vote to leave them. Tom honors his word, and I believe he'll move them as soon as practical. I'm still not convinced this is the right thing to do. But since the majority agrees, I'll support it." When Morgan spoke he looked tired and older than I'd noticed before. "Andrea and I agree with Martin. That's three votes; where do you stand, John?"
John nodded agreement then spoke. "I'm sorry these issues have led to this, but the majority of us want to live in peace. The weapons will remain secured where they are for several months until Tom's family leaves." He looked directly at me. "We will want ammunition left here for the hunting rifles we use." Clearly as an afterthought, he spoke to the whole group, "How many of you intend to follow Tom and his family when they leave?"
As John counted raised hands, I didn't need to turn and confirm our numbers; fifteen adults had said they wanted to escape with my family. John spoke again. "Seventeen all together. I'm sorry to see you leave. If there is no other new business, we'll adjourn the meeting." Several people made noises as they stood to leave.
I stood and faced the assembly. "I'd like to address the group for the last time." Most of the folks who had stood sat again. Jesse put a hand on Kelly's back and nudged her away from the chairs and through the door. "When zombies and rogue humans threatened us, we were a tight group and watched for each other. It was time consuming and difficult, but we did it. We stayed healthy because the dangers demanded it. Since we've had a peaceful existence, many of you have slacked off. You saw no reason to continue guard duties, so that was dropped three years ago. You complained about scheduled work assignments, and they were discontinued two years ago. Several of you accepted responsibilities that you now ignore and depend on someone else doing your work.
"When Doc was alive, he counseled everyone to keep your bodies healthy. Look around at how many of you are twenty to fifty pounds overweight. Only half of us attend the exercise classes held three days a week. You have consciously chosen to be weak and let your health deteriorate.
"Alcohol and tobacco were banned since the group's inception because of the health and emotional hazards that come with them. Recently, your officers chose to weaken the ban by allowing wine to be made. In the future the ban will be tested again and again until beer, whiskey and tobacco are allowed. Before the zombies attacked, the risk of alcohol addiction and cancer being caused by tobacco was well documented. Think back to that before you vote to weaken your rules again.
"As for the people who are leaving, we believe danger could still exist. Hopefully, the zombies are gone, but I am not so vain as to believe we are the sole humans in this world. In my mind, it's probable there are still dangerous groups of people. They haven't come into contact with us yet, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. I fully understand your craving for peace. I want that, too. There's a saying that originated more than two hundred years ago. It's been modified many times by many people to become 'Trust, but Verify.' I trust that people we meet in the future will be honest, non-violent and trust worthy, but I'll withhold judgment of them until I verify their intentions. The one thing I will never do is give up the right and the means to protect and defend my family.
"In the morning, I'll present a complete list to John of what items we'll take with us. Five years ago the group that is leaving took part in reclaiming the garden acreage for planting, built two barns and livestock pens, and roofed and rehabbed cabins. Since we won't be here to continue sharing in the benefits of that work, we'll take more than half of the livestock and some tools and material items as our just share."
Moderate grumbling rose from several pacifists until John spoke. "Give me the list and the committee will review it. If we don't agree, we'll work with you for a solution."
I addressed the group, "Leave the chairs, please. I'd like all the folks who are leaving with my family to stay and discuss the initial impact of our move."
In minutes, most of the extremists stood and left. John, Martin Sr. and Morgan stood by a far stall to listen. Seventeen adults and some of the children sat in front of me.
"If after considering the full scope of this move we're undertaking any of you change your mind, I'll not think less of you."
There were several grins while others shook their heads. Evidently, they had thought of the pitfalls, accepted them and were committed.
"Tomorrow I'd like to start our search for a new home. Richard and Paige, are you available to be gone for three or four weeks? We'll pack clothes, food and other supplies for a month. I'll bring plenty of ammo for our weapons. As soon as it's light enough inside the barn to move the horses outside, we'll saddle up and leave. Those of you who are staying behind, please keep an eye on the armory and don't let anything happen to it. I have the only key to the locks and Kira knows where it's kept.
"Mitch, Suzie, Vince and Byron, please take the diesel pickup and a twenty-foot enclosed trailer to Fort Leonard Wood and load any remaining field rations, both Meals Ready to Eat and First Strike Rations. While you're there, sort through the military clothing and boots. They've already been thoroughly picked over by us and other groups over the past fifteen years, but salvage what's left. Take the time to explore any areas we might have overlooked for goods we can use. This will likely be our last trip there. There's no rush to head out, so do it at your discretion, but take everything we can use at the new site.
"Vince, we'll use all three rubber-tired wagons for the move. Will you please inspect them and insure they're ready for several trips of about fifty miles each way. Look at the hydraulic brakes you and Albert rigged up especially hard. We'll be loaded and using four horse teams up and down steep grades. We'll also need the tandem dump truck, one pickup and the large farm tractor. Will you check them out?
"As for the livestock, we'll take a few more than half the cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and chickens. We'll claim six of the ten riding horses and eight of the ten adult draft horses. Besides the two adults we'll leave, there are three foals and four two-year-olds. The people we're leaving will be left ample stock. If you're wondering how I arrived at those quantities, we helped initially prepare the garden area for planting, built two grand barns with large pens and helped renovate every cabin to some extent, plus numerous other projects. We're taking what we deserve because we'll have to replicate those efforts at our new home. I don't think there'll be serious troubles here, but be prepared to fight for the material items we're taking with us; you've earned it.
"Before we disband for the evening, I want to thank each of you for being here. I realize how emotionally wrenching it is to split families for your core beliefs and ideals. Leaving loved ones behind will be the most difficult part of our journey. Thanks, friends."
Three of us rode away early the next morning. Each of us led a pack horse. Once we were on the old State Route 160, I planned to follow it to Beaver Creek and search the area on the northwest end of Bull Shoals Lake for a suitable homesite. An old Missouri map in my gear was thin on the fold lines from being opened and closed many times in the past. My goal was to find a site away from the fingers of water stretching from the main lake. I wanted to be on one of the tributaries feeding it. Eventually, the massive man-made concrete dam at the end of the lake would fail leaving a dry hole where the lake had been. But after the dam's collapse, Beaver Creek would still flow into the empty lake bed. I intended to be situated on a long term source of nearby fresh water, so we'd not locate on the lake where the water level would eventually fall to a muddy bottom.
Our first two days were spent traveling. I figured Beaver Creek was about forty miles from the homes and loved ones we'd left behind. On the second day at mid-afternoon, we arrived at a bridge crossing a finger of the lake where it was about half-a-mile wide. The lake level was on the high scale as we'd had ample rain through the spring months. There was no way to know how the dam gates had been left without visiting the dam, and there wasn't time for that. However they were set, I was positive the lake level would rise and fall drastically without the means to adjust the gate positions. I looked to the North. Unseen in the distance was the confluence where Beaver Creek emptied into the lake. Maybe our new homesite lay in that direction.
We rode north for three days searching the east side of the creekbank. We were in the western most section of the Mark Twain Forest. It was one of eight such areas identified on my map. Thus far, nothing we'd seen suited us. They were too big, too small, too far apart or there was no decent farm ground close by. The following morning, we forded the creek at a wide, rocky, shallow spot and began our search along the west bank. That day was a repeat of our efforts on the east bank. Finally, at mid morning on our fifth day of searching, we rode up to a large private lodge setting up a slight grade from the broad, fast flowing creek. A decrepit white painted board fence surrounded the vast property on three sides down to the creek. The lodge's log construction gave the three story structure a solid, woodsy look.
Surprisingly, the doors weren't locked. Inside, the place had a light dust coating from fifteen years of abandonment, but everything looked intact. The whole interior was varnished natural wood. The first floor had a large central living space with a huge, beautiful stone fireplace that took up the center of the room. It was open on all four sides, and leather couches and overstuffed chairs and western style coffee and end tables surrounded it. A large kitchen and dining area filled one end of that floor, and three bedrooms and a large office were on a hallway off the common area. Pine stair treads led to eight furnished bedrooms on the second floor and four more on the third floor.
Paige inspected the huge kitchen and pantry and proclaimed the pots and pans, dishes and cutlery were more than adequate. Of course, we'd need to strip wood fired cook stoves from the cabins we were leaving to replace the shiny gas and electric stoves in the custom designed, modern stainless steel kitchen.