“Will you knock it off!” I snapped at Aston who was in the middle of what I thought of as an unwarranted gleeful spazz out.
“Man!” he chortled. “Jax was right! The whole span just collapsed!” If there had been a football around he would have spiked it he was so happy.
“Geez,” I grumbled with a side order of snark. “If I had known this would have made you happy enough to do the Snoopy dance I would have taken you to blow things up before now.”
Mr. Houchins’ voice was as dry as Herman’s Creek when he said, “Don’t know which one of ‘em is worse, him or m’ grandson.” He shook his head and looking like an old Bassett hound added, “Shame to have to do it. Waste o’ good tax dollars but I just ain’t puttin’ up with no more of them beggars and thieves. How’s everyone up your way doing after what happened?”
Watching Aston and Junior continue to caper around like drunk monkeys I answered, “Better than we have any right to be blessed with. Jax and Reggie could have come today but I was worried about them coming out in this cold drizzle.”
Mr. Houchins nodded sagely. “Yup, we got a few at home like that. ‘Sides, until we bring down the road that spans Kellar’s Pass there’s no sense in leaving yourself vulnerable on that side.” He hemmed and hawed a bit then said, “Mother wants to know if you youngins got enough to see you through to early greens and spring planting.”
Knowing what it probably cost him to ask I told him, “I appreciate her concern but please tell her I wasn’t fibbing to you when I said we were OK. Come spring Jax and I might be over for some advice on getting the grain to come up thicker but for now I’m mostly working out how to make sure everything we have gets used to best advantage so it will go the furthest with no waste. Everyone else is willing to help, they’ve just never been responsible for all the planning themselves so there’s a big learning curve. And it’s different taking care of so many when it used to be just me.”
He smiled in fond memory. “’Twas the same for Mother when we first married. She picked it up quickly though and turned it into an art … mostly ‘cause she had to because back then the church mice looked rich compared to us. You youngins will fare well for the same reason … ‘cause you have to; lots of incentive in that. And that bunch you’ve hitched yourself to has the right attitude I’ll give ‘em that.” Looking at me from the corner of his eye he said, “Speaking of hitching up, see you’re wearing a might pretty ring on your finger.”
Refusing to be embarrassed I boldly told him, “Yes sir. Jax put it there. It belonged to his grandmother Nannie Dru.”
With somewhat of a relieved grin he replied, “Did he now; well that’s news worth sharing. He’s come a long way from the wild boy he was a couple of years ago. Mother will be happy to hear it. Believe I heard her say one o’ her brother’s wives was kin to Drusilla’s first husband.”
I couldn’t help it. I gave a small laugh. “Dad always used to wonder why everyone in the county didn’t have six toes on each foot and a horn coming out of their forehead the way everyone is related.”
The old man chuffed a laughed and said, “I do recall him saying that very thing myself.” A little regretfully his smile dimmed and he said, “Best be getting back or Mother will worry. You sure you’re gonna be alright?”
“Yes sir,” I assured him. “We’ve already dug out where to lay the charges to cause the slide. That was gonna be the hardest part. If we go now we’ll still be home in plenty of time to get the evening chores done before it gets dark.”
After that it was simply a matter of parting company and heading out. Aston was content to literally ride shotgun … with the shotgun in question loaded with slugs. Still in a more talkative mood than usual Aston said, “Who would have thought Jax knew how to blow things up? Guess it works out pretty well since you seem to know how to make bombs.”
If I hadn’t been concentrating on my driving I would have given him some grief over continually picking at that fact. Instead I simply said, “Knowing where to position explosives to create the desired effect is more important than creating the explosive. Anyone can mix chemicals that will go boom. It takes brains and experience to put them where it takes the least amount of boom to create the biggest effect. Had I had to blow that bridge up without his advice I would have had to use twice as much explosive and might have only partially brought it down.”
From the corner of my eye I saw him shrug. “Mebbe. Either way I’m just glad to cut off the most direct routes from town. If they have to walk twice as far maybe they’ll think twice about doing it. How’s your shoulder? Need me to drive?”
“Stiff but I’m fine. Let’s just get this done and get home.”
“I hear that,” he agreed, nodding. We barely talked the rest of the way which left me thinking about why we were doing what we were doing.
We’d had a run of several good days and I should have realized that there was a store full of shoes just waiting to drop on us like a load of bricks. Jax and Aston had gone hunting the day before it came to a head and they both had brought in a buck – Aston’s was a real beauty with an 8-point rack. Jax’s buck was a younger male and somewhat smaller but he felt he made up for the difference by also bagging a feral boar as well as one of his harem sows. We butchered the hogs that same day and the two bucks were hanging in the processing shed waiting for me to formulate a plan of attack; I’d never butchered that much venison without Dad to help and guide me.
There was also no doubt that I would need to cull at least some of the chickens and rabbits; the question was how many. I’d already culled one hen after I caught it eating the eggs of its fellow biddies and I put another out of its misery when a fox got into the yard and snatched it before I could figure out why the geese were having a coronary. There was no question a few of the hens were getting past their prime egg laying years. A couple of the rabbit does were also getting a little long in the tooth.
I was mentally tagging animals in my head when the little hand held walkie talkie that we each carried on our belts excitedly squawked with Reggie yelling, “The Houchins farm is under attack!”
Everyone ran for the house from wherever they were and then into the den where Reggie had been manning the radio. We all heard Mr. Houchins’ voice warning everyone in range what was happening and to be prepared.
Consideringly I said, “Well that tells me that they either think or know there are other groups in the area. If it was just us they’d have phrased it differently.”
Ashley croaked hoarsely, “How can you be so calm?! People are shooting each other over there!”
“Because we knew this day would come. We just thought that they’d hit us first because of how much manpower the Houchins clan has.”
That was when Jax took charge and got us going. “Time to move. You know the drill. Reggie?”
Reggie sighed and said, “I’ve got communications and the watch tower. Just keep me in the loop so the girls don’t drive me crazy.”
Reggie would stay at the home place while Jax and Aston left to go see if they could lend aid to the Houchins. I cringed inwardly but didn’t let it show. We’d been over it a million times and who went where was based on where we were in our chore cycle. Jax and Aston were gearing up as Ashley and Ginger started locking the shutters top to bottom of the house. Reggie was grabbing his own gear but he headed upstairs. I told him, “Might oughta take a jacket with you. It was cold in the cupola this morning.”
He nodded and grabbed his off the coat rack before going to the attic to turn on the radio up there and take his look out position. I pulled a couple of canteens and a back pack of emergency supplies to carry to the truck as Aston said a quick good bye to an obviously nervous Ashley.
At the truck Jax said, “I hadn’t expected you to have to guard the road first time something happened.”
“Don’t think about that. You just pay attention to staying safe and coming home in one piece.”
There wasn’t time for anything else; I had to do my own gearing up and get into position. Ginger had followed me out and helped me to lock the barn where the vehicles stayed then I left chasing the birds into the animal barn to get them locked away. Ashley had already taken Kelly and was down in the storm cellar beneath the kitchen and Ginger would join them there putting our three weakest links as far out of harm’s way as we could get them. A speaker would let them stay apprised of what was going on around the home place.
I was jogging through the woods, bypassing the booby traps we had set, when my radio crackled again. “Odd Man to Henny Penny, do you copy?”
I stopped and took a calming breath before answering, “Henny Penny to Odd Man, I copy.”
“Straight Man and Spiker en route. It sounds like Bonanza is taking a beating but they’re still ticking. Straight Man says everyone is to notify Home Base when they are in position.”
“Roger that. Henny Penny out.”
The code names were stupid but we felt safer using them rather than using our real names. I reached the blind we had built at the end of our road, let Reggie “Odd Man” know, and then after putting the homemade spike strips in place across the road settled in to watch while doing some serious praying. Should have remembered to be careful what I prayed for because God has a tendency in my experience to answer in the affirmative when you least expect it. What was my prayer? “Dear Lord, please watch over everyone and bring Jax and Aston home safely to us and if there is any way for me to make this possible, let me be Your instrument.” Uh huh.
Anyone ever read about how some animals will let the big predators do all the work and then while they’re busy, scavengers will come in around the edges to get a piece of the kill and run off? Well apparently the large group in town was supposed to take different roads to prevent an ambush of their convoy, then meet up to take on the Houchins clan en mass. Only not all of the drones were willing to mindlessly follow orders.
A small group of them were led by one of our former classmates who had defected to the Dark Side. Guy’s name was Derrick Diggory; we all called him Double D. I never would have pegged him for a sellout. He was a nice average guy that never got into any kind of trouble with nice average parents who you could describe the same way. I don’t know what turned him; all I know is that he did. The thing was his father worked for the postal service and knew where we lived. Derrick must have remembered his father telling him something because somehow or other he convinced the others with him to take a detour. Most of my hypothesis is conjecture of course but it is based on an argument between Derrick and a guy in the other truck that I overheard from my hidden spot.
I turned the radio down and gave three clicks letting Reggie know not to call me and then four clicks to let him know the enemy was about to engage. I heard the two faint clicks in response that let me know he understood. I didn’t have much time and needed to focus. I checked the bulky vest I was wearing to make sure I could get at what I needed in a hurry. I also double checked Dad’s Bushmaster ACR that Jax had insisted I used in that position. I took a breath and prayed for forgiveness for what I intended to do.
Sure enough the creepoids backed up and then turned into our drive. I guess their intention had been to rush us and paralyze us with shock and awe or something. Bad choice on their part. The first truck hit the spike strips hard enough to blow both front tires and one of the rear ones before skidding to a stop on their rims. The rear truck had followed just as fast but too closely and had hit the truck in the side panel causing the air bags in both extended cab trucks to deploy.
I’d already lit the fuses of two of the homemade claymores and tossed them. The first one missed its target and rolled under the second truck. The second claymore went exactly where I meant it to which was inside the cab of the lead truck. They both exploded at approximately the same time. The one under the second truck took out all four tires on that truck and the legs of the two men who had just climbed out of it to rush to the first truck to find out what had happened. As they were falling screaming the second claymore went off inside the cab of the first truck with devastating effect. Shrapnel blew out shredding every surface it came in contact with. The percussion added to the damage by blowing out all the windows, even taking out part of the windshield. The shrapnel damage was from about the chest height down; the window glass and percussion primarily appeared to affect their shoulders up. One man fell out of the first truck but he didn’t move again once he was supine on the ground.
There had been six guys in the second truck, two of them incapacitated by the claymore under the truck. That left four to deal with. I had lit another claymore as soon as I saw the effect of the first two. I lobbed it, this time hitting the target of the interior of the second cab. Two men rolled out of the truck as soon as they saw it coming and stayed on the ground while their two friends that didn’t move fast enough got turned into hamburger.
A fourth claymore wasn’t happening because they had located my position and started shooting at me in fear and anger. If they had known I was female and alone they might have rushed me which would have been bad. Instead their nerves made them less effective which I later gave thanks for.
I pulled back and changed position but it wasn’t easy. If the ditch from the road’s former path hadn’t let me get lower than the bullet trajectories I might not have pulled it off. As it was I battled the effect of too much adrenaline being dumped into my system by my fight or flight instinct kicking into overdrive.
I got out of their line of fire and before I could think about it too much I returned fire from a new angle that allowed me to throw my own barrage, killing both men with several hits to their upper chests. I cautiously worked my way closer to the trucks, prepared to duck in case any of the men were playing possum.
Looking into the first truck was a nauseating experience. All five in the cab and the one on the ground were dead, or so close as it made no difference. Blood loss, shock, or deep puncture wounds; I couldn’t tell which had killed each man. Deciding it didn’t matter I used that truck as cover to check the men of the second one before moving forward. And a good thing too.
I slung the rifle on my shoulder and pulled the LCP from my ankle holster. I know it might have been better to have a bigger gun but I preferred a tool I knew over one I was still learning to handle. I was moving around one of the open doors when one of the men started cursing me and tried to shoot me but wide of the mark when his strength failed him and the gun wavered. My fear dumped another load of elixir in my veins and I had shot him three times before I even realized I had aimed. One of the other men had been crawling away and I took two steps and shot him in the back of the head. Then I turned and shot three other men from that truck at point blank range just to be sure. I was twisting and turning trying to watch my back as I fumbled to insert a new magazine in the LCP and it took a moment for me to realize they were all down and never getting up again.
It was at that moment that my guts loosened and I vomited violently right where I stood.