Authors: Robert Schobernd
I turned to Richard. "Ride back the way we came. A sign a short distance back said there had been a golf course. It may do for our garden plots and hay field. I like the lodge, but we need ground for farming and room to build barns for the horses and cattle with enough ground for livestock pens."
As Richard rode off, I inspected the exterior and judged the green metal roof panels should last another twenty to twenty-five years. The dry logs would soon require a fresh coat of spar varnish. Across the main road, a side road ran off to the west through a thick jumble of weeds. White painted board fencing, similar to that around the lodge, ran several hundred feet on both sides of the gravel road. After telling Paige I was going exploring, I crossed over to the road that had once been gravel but was now more dirt than rock. Fifty-feet up the lane a huge deteriorated sign drew my attention. The post had rotted away, and the body of the sign lay almost flat to the ground. Up close, I read the faded, peeled lettering.
Cleary's Stables - Boarding and Trail Rides
. With a few nudges, the horse laid into an easy gallop over the curved lane toward a stand of trees in the distance. Within a quarter-mile, large, green metal barns came into view in a huge clearing. I couldn't help but grin widely; if Richard had any luck at all at the golf course, we'd found our new homesite.
In front of and centered between the two barns sat a long, single-story, white painted bunkhouse-looking building. Faded signs hung along a wide front porch indicated it had been an office, general store and restaurant. Four cars and two pickups, all fifteen to twenty years old, sat at the edge of the asphalt parking lot across from the building.
Tall, wide double doors at the end of each barn stood open, so I rode into the north barn. My eyes adjusted to the dim light, and what I saw sickened me. Bleached horse skeletons lay in many of the stalls. They had been left uncared for at the zombie invasion and starved to death. Outside, I rode along the dingy, white painted board fence of the pens. As expected, more horse skeletons lay scattered in the weed infested lot.
The same sights waited for me at the south barn. The owners and help had likely been overrun by zombies before the animals could be released. Out of curiosity, I walked up a set of steps to the loft. At the sound of my deer hide moccasins scraping the wood steps, a flock of startled pigeons took flight through the open loft door. Bales of hay and bedding straw filled three-fourths of the area. I hoped the feed and bedding could be used after drying fifteen or so years. The materials at the top of the piles would need to be destroyed because bird dropping contaminated it. In the south east corner, stacks of commercial feed still sat. Many of the sacks had been bored into by rodents, but some appeared to be intact. A legion of cats would be needed to thin the ranks of mice, chipmunks and birds.
Outside the barn, I walked along the fence and noticed a large mechanical shed several hundred feet to the left of the barn. Two tractors, several trucks and numerous farm implements were parked under the roof. Hopefully, Vince could rework the equipment so it could be pulled by horses.
As I climbed the rickety fence, a large pond was visible past the back fence. After crossing the weed covered horse lot, I climbed to the top of the back fence and balanced precariously near the top. A large field lay in front of me on the other side of the pond. It ran at least a quarter-mile and filled the small valley between two ridges. That had to be where the stable owners raised hay. I fisted the air in glee; we had a new home.
When I dismounted at the lodge, Richard's horse was with the other four. I took the fact that all five horses had been unburdened of their saddles and panniers to be a good sign.
Richard and Paige were on the third floor inspecting the upper rooms. Both had laid claim to second floor rooms they wanted for their families. I stealthily climbed the wide wood stairs, still getting used to the recent summertime switch from winter socks and boots to moccasins.
Richard told of the 18-hole golf course being ideal for farming and of numerous shallow lakes scattered around it. He and Paige were exuberant when they learned of the barns we could use for both horses and cows. Milking bails would need to be built to constrain the cows for hand milking and would consume a number of man-hours to complete.
On a hunch, I went to the first floor office and delved into the owner's file cabinets. Not surprisingly, I learned the house belonged to Harold Cleary, the owner of the stable across the road. It was likely he'd owned the golf course also. On the wall opposite the desk, hundreds of pictures were pinned to a custom-made cork board. On close inspection, I identified past state and federal senators and representatives plus movie and sports stars. There were even several military generals I recalled from TV news shows. Most of those were with Cleary and his family members, and the majority was of golf, or fishing or hunting trips. That explained the excessive number of bedrooms and the over-equipped kitchen. Mr. Cleary had ties to many important people.
We spent three more days exploring the area before heading home to retrieve our families and friends. During our travels, we learned game was plentiful. Besides the move itself, we were faced with a late start for planting. It was the last week of April and the acreages selected for planting hadn't been plowed for fifteen years. There was an extreme amount of work to be done in a short time by too few people. But if it could be accomplished, I had the right crew to do it.
We pushed the horses and arrived back at our soon to be abandoned homes before noon of our second day of the return trip.
I gathered the people making the move with us and told them we'd found a great new home. Paige and Richard shared their opinions on the lodge building and other features near it.
Vince stood in front of me. "Can you get the farm tractor loaded today and have it and the dump truck ready to roll in the morning?"
He grinned back at me proudly. "It's already loaded. All of the equipment batteries were replaced with new ones; they're still good because of the slow chargers Shane rigged to the remaining solar panel that feeds them. There're only two batteries left. When they die, the equipment will be useless. The fuel in the hundred gallon diesel tank in the back of the pickup was filtered and new additives were mixed in. Hopefully, its deteriorated condition won't hurt the engines before we're done moving and plowing. Another hundred gallons is prepared and loaded in fifty-five-gallon drums on the low-boy trailer with the tractor and its attachments."
I reached out and shook his hand. "Thanks for taking the lead and giving us a head start. There are about two hundred gallons of gasoline. We'll take half and leave the rest. Leave one-hundred gallons of diesel here and get the rest on our last lowboy load going out.
"We'll plan to finish our move in one week. Three farm trailers are available. One will be pulled by the pickup, the other two by four horse teams. We'll do this move the same as when we came here. On the first round of trips, eight adults and their rug-rats will leave and stay at the new homesite to unload goods on that end. The others will remain here to load out more belongings. Since the new home is furnished, the major items needed are several wood fired cook stoves and the piping and fittings to connect them."
I looked at the people in our group besides me and Kira: Paige and Mitch, Junior and Suzie, Vince and Grace, Richard and Carmen and their adult kids Bryon and Charise. Then there was Vivian, Larry and Brittney, Able and Allen plus thirteen kids under the age of ten.
"How many of you have started packing?" I asked as I grinned at the group. Everyone raised their hands. I was proud of this bunch; there wasn't a slacker among us. "Who wants to go in the first bunch to move?" Everyone raised their hands. "Looks like I'll have to decide. Mitch and Richard's families go on the first trip; they know the layout and will be a big help getting everyone settled in. Vivian, how about you, Larry and Brittney going first, too?" Brittney fisted the air and I took that as a yes.
Byron spoke. "We made that trip to Fort Leonard Wood. There were still field rations on the shelves and a bunch of clothing, mostly in small and larger sizes. We must have brought several hundred pairs of boots, again in small and larger sizes. Then we stumbled into the Military Police headquarters building. We hit the jackpot there on handheld weapons and a truck bed full of ammunition. Used clothing was hanging in lockers and we cleaned that out, too." I reached my hand to each of the four scavengers to congratulate them as he continued. "That's not all. Then we found the base laundry and found more clothing, bedding and towels."
I clasped him on the back. "The next time I need scroungers, I'm sending you four." The four of them grinned from ear to ear at the well deserved praise.
Later that afternoon and evening, many tears were shed as friends and relatives said emotionally difficult good-byes brought about by our conflicting ideology. That would continue all week until the last of us left. Over the following five days, I spoke to Albert, Morgan, Andrea and Martin Sr. All of them felt they were too old to make the arduous move and start over again. Albert was the only one who hadn't put on excess weight nor slowed down, but he felt he was needed there for his blacksmith skills. Vince would take the spare forge and tools with us. Andrea was the only one who was adamant about removing all the weapons. The others who decided to stay shook hands warmly, but their minds were made up. I didn't argue with them but thanked them sincerely for all their past support and hard work. That they couldn't accept the basis of my position didn't upset me; the danger they had chosen to expose their families to did.
Wagons left, returned and left again until all our possessions and small livestock were hauled away.
At the end of that week's work, Kira yelled, "Giddy Up" and slapped the reins on the two hind horses pulling the last wagon load of belongings. She'd told me the date was May Third, 2033. I sat atop a large roan stallion and waved to the few folks who'd come to say final farewells. Adam Whycoff had a wistful look as he spoke to me for several minutes before I turned my mount and rode off after the wagon.
Half of our group was in the garden patch harvesting string beans, cucumbers, late sweet corn and tomatoes. Some of the younger children had eagerly pitched in at first, but they soon grew bored with the work and turned to chasing each other in play. Before lunch, most of the men put our shirts back on to protect against the miserably hot early August sun.
We'd barely gotten started working after eating when Brittney Holescheck heard them first. "Look, over there on the road. People are shouting and waving at us."
We stared where she pointed and saw a small group of people scurrying in our direction. I recognized Morgan's lumbering gait first. We dropped our harvest baskets to the ground and hurried to the people we could now put names to. As we closed on them, Sarah Thompson sank to her knees and cried. Vernon Pitchford squatted and put his arm around her shoulder and hugged her close.
Morgan panted from the exertion of jogging the short distance, "Food and water? Got any with you? We've been walking three days and haven't eaten anything but some wild berries along the road and a couple of roasted squirrels."
Several women ran to our wagon where it was parked in the shade of a giant black oak. We encouraged our visitors to follow and sit in the shade to cool down. The women carried water jugs and food left over from our lunch to our friends. Able Jones moved to stand by his uncle Richard.
With trepidation, Richard spoke to the group in general, "What's happened? You didn't walk here just to be sociable."
Several spoke at once until the youngsters gave way to Morgan's deep, commanding voice. "Our compound was wiped out. A gang hit us a few mornings back and killed or captured everyone but us. I wasn't there until it was over and they'd left. I was back in the woods where I make my wine when I heard the gunshots. I knew it was trouble, but I had no idea how bad it was. Vernon was there, tell them what you saw."
"It started the day before. A guy in his early to mid-twenties rode in near supper time; he was all smiles and friendly. Verlie and Morgan fed him, and then he spent the night in the horse barn loft. He had a long line of bull about where he was from. Said he lived with a small group over the other side of West Plains and was out exploring the countryside alone. The next morning, he had breakfast, thanked everybody profusely. Even said they'd come and visit soon before he rode on. All of our people were tickled to learn there were other people nearby and that they were friendly. A while later, an hour or maybe two, we heard horses approach on the road and stop. Then loud voices were raised. People were shouting and cussing like mad. Sarah and I were in the cow barn. We heard a couple of shots. She wanted to go back, but I talked her into waiting until we knew what was going on. It didn't look or sound right to me. We climbed to the loft and could see everything; that guy that left earlier was with those people. I counted five riding horses and two wagons. Two young women had their hands tied to the back of the first wagon on a long tether, so they could walk but not run away. I knew then it was going to end badly. The thieves all had guns and cleared everyone from all the cabins. They gathered them into a single group up by Doc's cabin. They tried to separate people into smaller groups, but John resisted strongly. One of the women gut shot him. He wasn't dead, but he was hurt bad. Marcie tried to help him and wouldn't leave him, so that same woman shot her, too. People screamed, but then they did what they were told. Adults went in one group and the kids were herded into another; there were five kids. Then they grabbed Molly, Merriam and Elizabeth and pushed them aside. As soon as that was done those bastards shot all of the other adults. The girls and the kids screamed, but there was nothing they could do. Those animals killed them for no reason. They laughed and kicked the bodies and shot some again to make sure they were dead."