Monday, August 25, 2014

The Unholy Roamin' Empire - Part 5


I know local kids tell stories about the old days to scare each other around the proverbial campfire.  I know some of those stories are little more than tall tales that have grown around such stories as those about the Caulderman caches; but, since this memoir is to set the history of that time down accurately before it gets conveniently erased or “corrected” I’m unfortunately going to have to disappoint all of the treasure hunter wannabes out there.  The caches were not a duplication of Ali Babba’s cave.  We got all of them.  So stop digging holes in other people’s property! 

In reality all of the so-called Caulderman caches were fairly small; usually three or four ammo cans in size each so that they would be easy to hide and easy to carry off in an emergency.  And what was in the caches wasn’t necessarily all ammo.  Of course there was ammo but there was also reloading supplies, firing pins, magazines for various calibers and makes, cleaning supplies like gun oil, and miscellaneous repair parts.  We did pick up a lot of stuff from the incident at the Caulderman uncle’s hunting hideaway but that was more because of what was brought in by the people that had taken it over than the cache itself.  And that uncle wasn’t exactly a fine, upstanding citizen so who knows how much of it had been stored by him.  We’ll never know for sure because none of the Caulderman family ever returned.  If you look in the old public records of the time you’ll find one of the brother’s names on a list of prisoners who died during some kind of riot or other in a prison camp but there is no proof of what happened to the rest of the family.  They all just disappeared. 

So many people disappeared from the public records back then – the loss of life was too great to keep up with and so many record depositories were damaged if not outright destroyed.  I know for a fact some people simply changed their name and gave themselves a new identity so that they could have a new start.  They tried to completely disconnect from their past because it was too painful or too different from what they wanted in the future.  But you can never completely disconnect from your past, you bring too many skills and experiences with you into your present life. 

Take the three guys in our group as a good example.  All three of them, like almost any boy who grew up in our neck of the woods, knew how to shoot.  You didn’t have to be an Olympic grade marksman to know which was the business end of a gun, but suffice it to say that Jax, Reggie, and Aston could hit what they were aiming at most of the time, even if it was moving.  And they might not have been gun smiths but they did know the basics and they were smart enough to know what books to use to help them repair the guns that needed repairing and keep the guns we had cleaned and maintained and ready for use.  All three had grown up using their hands so it was no surprise to me when the three of them kind of hijacked the planning and implementing of our defense. 

Most of their spare time for next week was spent converting the attic cupola into a guard tower of sorts.  Dad and I had done most of the work over the years as we converted the attic into Mom’s temperature-controlled storage facility.  We left the original stairs up to the attic but closed those stairs off from the rest of the house with an antique door that matched the other down stairs doors.  We’d already run all new wiring and done all of the decorative stuff like repair the oculi – small round windows that are mostly decorative but do let light in as well – replaster the walls, add solar ventilation fans, added ridge and gable vents, and reframed and repaired the large cupola.  We also built a wooden spiral staircase up into the cupola.  When it was too dangerous for Will to go outside I used to help him go up into the cupola so that he could look all around since it gave a three hundred and sixty degree view of the homestead.  There was a bench up there he could lie on.  Dad said the cupola had been his hideout when he was growing up too and he had done his best to make it a retreat for Will.  But we no longer needed a retreat and the cupola was repurposed. 

When the cupola was finished with its makeover the guys turned their attention to the opposite end of the house and turned an area down in the basement into an armory.  That meant moving a lot of supplies around but for once they didn’t complain about loaning their muscles for one of my projects since doing that freed up the space for one of theirs.  Most of the guns we had at that time didn’t come from the Caulderman caches but were from Dad’s gun collection and from all the guns they salvaged the night of the shoot-out at the hunting hideaway.  Most of those men had had at least two guns and most of them had more; two handguns, a rifle, and a shotgun was the usual inventory for each man.  Calibres and models varied from the traditional and common to the relatively exotic. 

We all realized that such an armory gave us an advantage but thinking of the reasons why it was advantageous was intellectually uncomfortable for some of us.  Discomfort or not it didn’t stop any of us from going armed 24/7 from that point forward.  I myself added a fashion statement in the form of a Ruger Mark III on my hip that used the same .22lr ammo as the rifle that had already been my constant companion for a number of years.  I also had a Ruger LCP Centerfire in an ankle holster.  The LCP was a .380 which meant carrying two different ammos but the tradeoff was worth it.  And yeah I was a Ruger fan – still am – so sue me.  They are dependable and pretty at the same time, what more could a girl want? 

My natural acceptance of wearing a gun helped Ginger and Ashley over their reluctance to add the same fashion accessory to their wardrobe.  But none of us took the acceptance of the new norm casually.   Even if the situation hadn’t warranted some seriousness we respected the weapons for the tools they were and the danger they represented if not handled properly.  Part of that handling meant thinking about the accessibility issue with Kelly around.  Gun racks were installed in each bedroom, as well as the common areas, that were well out of her reach.  Slowly but surely we had to child proof spaces as they became storage areas for items that could hurt her.  It wasn’t just kitchen cabinets and drawers but the doors of appliances and closets, the stairs both up and down, and all exterior doors.  She was very, shall we say, ingenious about finding a way into something she wasn’t supposed to. 

The home improvement projects didn’t end there.  The rods I had hung the blackout curtains on for years were reinforced because they were opened and closed a lot more often than Mom had originally envisioned and getting wobbly in the process.  We looked at all the exterior accesses – including the shutters – using gaming scenarios as our guide and it gave us more improvements we could make.  Although I have to admit not everyone appreciated that kind of strategizing at first. 

“Zombies?!  Are you two serious?!” Aston asked derisively. 

Reggie took umbrage at Aston’s tone but I had expected it and said, “Don’t think of the zombies like they’re real, think of them as the symbol of a worst case scenario.  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.” 

In a falsely calm voice Aston said, “Oh yeah, of course, just consider them a worst case scenario.”  Suddenly in a loud and aggressive voice he shouted, “Have you two lost your freaking minds?!  Zombies aren’t real!  The crazy people in town are real!  And they will kick our butts if you two don’t stop playing!” 

Ashley stared at him in shock.  Aston had been acting a little off lately but even at his worst during football season he’d never blown up like he was on his way to doing.  Me on the other hand, warned by Jax about Aston’s likely damage, decided that for once I’d try and act like a grown up first and that meant reasoning with him before losing my temper.  Trying not to sound as impatient as I felt I told him, “You’re right.  And for the record I’m not trying to make fun or belittle what you guys went through before you came out here.”  Aston blinked at me like I’d poke him some place sore when he wasn’t expecting it.  “But those people aren’t the only things real that we are facing.  There’re the looters that Reg and Jax have run into … the fellow salvagers if you want to be PC about it.  There’s the funky weather that’s so dry the fish pond is getting low and the water cisterns are half way further down than they should be.  There’s the fact only by the grace of God and a little bit of salvaging that we have enough seed to plant this coming year and I still don’t know if it is going to be enough to feed the seven … soon to be eight … of us much less anyone else and still have enough to put away for next winter’s food and next year’s seed.  There’s … look I don’t want a fight and thinking about every individual little piece of the puzzle gets over whelming.  That’s where the zombies come in.” 

Jax had been silent up to that point.  He’d been working so hard and was so tired he was barely keeping up.  He’d nearly dozed all through the first part of committee but he finally interjected a comment.  “So zombie is just another word for Big Bad.  So explain why.” 

Reggie calmed down once he figured out at least someone was willing to listen.  Ginger calmed down once Reggie calmed.  Ashley was in waiting mode to see how Aston would react to my words.  Aston had thrown up a wall.  It was then I realized what had happened to him at the hands of those women went deeper than I had given it credit … and it was affecting my ability to reach him.  Still, we had a good team and I believed the effort was worth it. 

“I know it sounds a little bizarre, sounds like I’m turning things into a game or at the very least not taking them seriously enough.  The truth is I am taking things seriously but I’m also trying to find a way to deal with it that doesn’t blow my circuits.  I’m not the one that came up with the idea of using zombies.  It has been around for a good while now.  Remember when zombies were the latest fad?  Zombie television shows, zombie fiction, zombie movies, zombie survival guide, zombie make up, zombie cupcakes, zombie candy, zombie energy drinks, you name it.  Zombies are nothing more than a strategy based on a metaphor.  If you can zombie-proof something is should pretty much be proof against anything.  Take those women for instance.” 

Every one tensed because I had dared to bring it up head on.  Aston snarled, “What about them?”  It was like he was daring me to actually say something. 

The poison needed to be lanced so it could drain.  “Those women are perfect examples of what I’m talking about.  Ashley and Ginger were minding their own business.  They’d even done the smart thing and buddied up.  Then along came those hags.  They were really going to hurt the girls … did hurt them … if you hadn’t come along and then Reggie who knows where it would have ended.  People like that start but generally don’t know when to stop before everything is in the pooper scooper.  Your body is a lot strong than Ashley’s … at a bare minimum your intervention probably saved the baby.  If you think about it, your strength saved your child and maybe Ashley … Ashley and Ginger both.  Reggie throwing in was part of it too.” 

Aston mumbled, “I wasn’t strong enough though was I?  They still … she’ll always …” 

“Wrong,” I said surprising him and everyone else with how emphatic I was.  “One battle does not make a war.  You win a war one battle at a time.  You won because you survived and lived to fight another day.  Some battles may seem more important than others, may even be more important than others, but in reality it is the sum total of all the battles together that decide victory or defeat.” 

Aston just looked at me then Jax drew his attention by asking, “Who has the best stats?” 

“Huh?”  I think we were all thinking it because it sounded like such an out of sync thing to ask. 

Jax repeated, “Who has the best stats?”  Then he clarified, “The guy who has one or two good games all season or the guy who isn’t exceptional but plays steady with only one or two off games?” 

Aston sighed unable to deny the point he was making.  “They guy who plays steady.” 

“Exactly.  And we both know that it takes a team to win, not just one player.  Not even an exceptional player who does well in every game is going to win if he doesn’t have a team to play with.” 

“Fine.  Whatever.  So what would you have done to those women?” Aston asked, going back to being belligerent. 

Aston directed his question at Jax but I was the one that answered him.  “Kill them if possible and if not, do as much damage as I could so they’d think twice about ever using that particular tactic again.” 

They all stared at me in shock, even Jax.  He started to say something but I shook my head.  “No, don’t.  I’m not in some game fantasy.  Over the last couple of days it has just all finally hit me.  I don’t know why it took so long but it did.”  Feeling the weight of the words I’d been holding back I said, “We’re in a fight for our lives.  I’ve lost my family, faced the consequences of terrorism head on.  But it wasn’t enough.  I watched my brother struggle with cancer, watched so many people put out roadblocks to his treatment, and still it wasn’t enough to wake me up to the thoughtless cruelty of others.  I’ve had my two best friends in the world go completely Lando on me and it wasn’t enough.  I heard and saw what everyone has had to deal with in town but I still didn’t get it.”  Then I turned and looked deep into Jax’s eyes.  “But realizing how close we came … I came … to losing you … and Reg … the other night to those creepoids … that was the last straw.  Realizing I would have had to explain to Kelly …”  I stopped and swallowed the lump in my throat.  “There isn’t enough tape left in the world to fix the rose-colored glasses I was wearing.  And even if there were I’d never put them back on.” 

I got up and walked over to the kitchen sink and splashed some water on my face.  Turning back around to them I said, “This isn’t a game.  If we lose our lives there’s no points to buy new ones with.  I don’t want a war, I’ll do whatever is reasonable to stay out of one, but if they bring it to us … if the zombies march down the road or out of the woods I want to be able to wreak some serious devastation on their butts.  And if they come after us and we can beat them back, I don’t want the only option we have left is to sit around and wait for them to come after us again.” 

Reggie grinned wickedly then said, “What exactly do you have in mind Valkyrie?” 

I shook my head.  “That was never my avatar and you know it.  It was just a sim that Matt thought up and toggled with.” 

He shrugged, still grinning.  “Maybe not, but then again maybe Matt knew you better back then than you knew yourself.  It sure sounds like what you are talking about.” 

I shook my head denying it.  “No.  Back then I was just a kid playing a game.  I always knew it was a game and that’s why I never got crazy about it like Matt and Marty and the others did.  Gaming was part of my life but it was never a way of life for me.  And I don’t want … didn’t choose … what we’re being forced to live now as a way of life.  But since I’m not being given a choice I’m going to make of it what I can, just like after my family was murdered.”  Looking away again I added, “I’ve lost one family.  I’m not going to lose another.  Those refugees … freaks … zombies … whatever they chose to become … they come looking to take, looking to destroy what we have, I want to have the tools to one, protect ourselves, and two, obliterate them.” 

Aston snorted.  “Obliterate them?  C’mon.” 

I let some of what I felt seep into my eyes for them all to see before saying, “Yeah … obliterate them.  No second chances.  As in I don’t want to have to worry about them more than once.  Gone from this planet never to return in this life.  No cosmic dust left to sweep up.  Obliterate.”  I turned to look at the backside of the blackout curtain and realized I might need to use a figurative blackout curtain on my emotions so that the others couldn’t see them.  “It won’t be long now.  They’ll be out of food soon if they aren’t already.  The game is going to be thinned out around town … maybe they are resorting to the dogs, who knows.  Either way there are too many grasshoppers in town and no time to learn to be ants.  Hunger and thirst will push them out into the farming community.  I’m surprised you haven’t run into them yet Jax.” 

“Most of the places have already been stripped, probably by Houchins and his clan … maybe by other groups we don’t know about.  We’re finding a few things here and there but it almost isn’t worth the fuel anymore.  Isn’t worth the fuel anymore in my opinion.  What about you Reg?” 

“Nah man.  Unless we are going for something specific like that run to the DOT that we made two nights ago I don’t see the need.” 

Jax turned to Aston, “What about you?” 

He still looked surly but Aston always looked surly even when he wasn’t.  It was like his face was stuck that way.  “We need stuff for the baby.  You got stuff like that for Kelly but we don’t have nothing for our baby,” he said draping his arm possessively over the back of Ashley’s chair. 

“True enough.  We’ll make a list.  Figure out the best place to get it all.  Then shut the salvaging down except when we need something specific.  From here on out we focus on our defensive and offensive lines.” 

Ginger, Ashley and I looked at each other and did a mental eye roll.  Somehow we’d gone from zombies to football … I preferred zombies but what the heck, so long as it got the job done.

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