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Chapter 1

Come and Go

Ben seemed more curious than alarmed at the still-healing fissure in his forearm. “Well, Doc? What do you think? Can I keep it?”

“It’s not as bad as it was,” Carrie mumbled while she rotated Ben’s arm back and forth examining the flesh under the glaring light. Finally, she announced. “Well, I only see healthy tissue, but with that said, it’ll still take quite a while to heal. I still can’t stitch it.” She looked up and added. “You should be on IV antibiotics for at least five days more days or longer. You should definitely not be going off into the mountains on a camping trip.”

Ben sighed. “Maybe, but the tribal elders have decided to move the camp, and I have to respect their decision. You’ll just have to give me pills.”

Carrie sighed and packed the wound while she tried to provide a laundry list of reasons to remain close to the lodge, but Ben was just as determined to leave. In the end, she bandaged the wound and gave up any further protests. Carrie disinfected a plastic top and bottom splint, taped them together, and finished the dressing with an Ace bandage to hold both halves in place. She replaced the sling over his shoulder and eased Ben’s arm into the sleeve. “There you go. Now, let me get supplies together while you sit there and rest. I don’t want you passing out.”

Ben laughed. “I’ll try not to litter your floor.”

*****

Liz Jameson watched her father, Will Edmonds, greet Ben’s son, Machn, when he entered the lodge. Machn led a black couple with two teens into the great room. Close on their heels was Tammy Robertson, carrying a single bag. Tammy glanced around as if checking into a hotel that was not meeting her stringent standards.

Liz cringed when she saw Robertson examine the room with such a critical eye. She wondered what her father would decide to do with Robertson, the civil rights attorney. As far as Liz was concerned, Tammy Robertson had not made a stellar first impression.

At a sudden commotion, Liz turned to see John Tilman, and Harry Walters saunter into the great room from the kitchen. Both men dressed in jeans and boots looked like bearded mountain men with sidearms strapped to their hips.

When John and Harry saw the black family, John stomped over to the black man’s side and rested his hand on the man’s shoulder and grinned at Liz and Will. “Folks this is the man I was telling you about, Jesse Burns and his wife, Becka. The kids are LJ and Pattie. Jesse and LJ are both experienced mechanics and Becka cooked at a retirement home.” John winked at Pattie. “The little ‘un is just trouble. Gonna be her daddy’s worse nightmare in a few years when she grows up to be the best looking girl in Texas. Gonna be a knockout.” He laughed and bumped fists with the gawky ten-year-old with skinny arms and knobby knees.

When the child smiled, Liz realized it was probably right. Pattie was all arms and legs at ten, but in five or six years, she would be a real beauty. In addition to a golden mocha complexion, she had large dark eyes and full lips that were quick to smile.

Will stepped forward and extended his hand and greeted both Jesse and Becka. “Welcome. We’re glad to have you with us.”

Liz echoed Will’s greeting, and after handshakes and a few words, Will nodded at John and Harry.

John laughed. “Come on, folks. We’ll get you breakfast then we’ll see you settled in your new home. The two men hustled the family off to the dining room.

Liz turned to Tammy. “Dad, this is Tammy Robertson.” This is going to be interesting.

Tammy Robertson struggled to maintain her appearance of boredom. “Sir. Thank you for accepting us into your little community.” She failed at any attempt to hide her scorn.

Will sighed. “You, Ms. Robertson, present a problem to our little community, as you call us. It seems as much as Ben tried to think of skills you could bring to the table, he could think of nothing you would add to our little community. You can’t cook. You can’t shoot a gun. You can’t even build a fire. You admitted yourself every plant you touch withers and dies. The fact is I just don’t have a clue what you offer.”

Liz struggled to keep from laughing while Will continued to study Tammy as he waited for a response.

“Well…I…I….” Outraged, Tammy began then faltered.

Will interrupted the stammering, “Add that to the fact, we’ll have another problem with where to put you. You see, we don’t have living facilities for single adults. Only families.”

Tammy glanced over her shoulder at Machn whose face was the mask of indifference. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

Machn shrugged. “They already agreed to take you. I’m waiting for my father.” He looked at Tammy for the first time since walking through the door. “You are no longer my problem.”

As if on cue, Carrie led Ben into the great room, unaware of the conversation she was interrupting. “He’s as ready as I can get him.” She handed Machn a large box of supplies. “There’re supplies for cleaning the wound, packing material, and antibiotics. For heaven sakes, use the gloves once and throw them away each time you change the dressings. Do it every day. If it’s not completely healed in two months, come back for more supplies. I didn’t do all of this for you to screw it up.”

Machn smiled for the first time. “You’re the boss. Can he go now?”

“If I were the boss, he’d be turning around and heading back to bed, not chasing off to the mountains,” Carrie answered. “Go, but at the first sign of fever or infection, he needs to come back.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Machn turned to Will and Liz. “Thank you. John says you are familiar with the area we will be calling home. You will always be welcome to our valley.”

Ben shook hands with Will and nodded at each Liz and Carrie in turn. “Will, you and your family have been kind in a cruel world. We all face many struggles in the years to come, but we will always be grateful for your help and offered friendship.” He gave a quick nod, and Machn shifted the box under his arm before guiding Ben out the door. Footsteps crossed the porch, and a few minutes later, the motor of Ben’s truck roared to life. The vehicle drove away.

Will turned to Tammy. “What to do with you is still a problem, but for now, you may as well come and have some breakfast.” He led Liz into the dining room, unconcerned whether or not Tammy followed. She followed, but she failed to hide the frown distorted her face.

When they entered the dining room they found, Harry and John sat at the table with the Burns family. The group laughed as if old friends. John continued a story, “And LJ turned on the main valve with Jesse still looking into the line with the shutoff wide open wondering why it wasn’t working.” John laughed.

Jesse slapped his son on the back with a broad grin. “The first shower I’d had in a couple months,” His laughter boomed.

Pattie pinched her nose. “LJ still needs one.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but this may help that issue, young lady,” Will laughed and handed Pattie a plastic bag of supplies before he turned to John. “Put them in the unit next to your cabin. One of the boys stocked it with some basic supplies yesterday afternoon. Maria and a couple ladies put these together for the women coming in. They said the ladies would like the stuff inside. Stop by the store so they can get clean clothes then get these folks settled. Be sure to show them the golf cart and explain the solar system on the water, so everyone gets a warm shower. Once they get their truck unloaded and refueled, they can put it behind the cabin.”

“Got it.” John gave a thumbs up. “We’ll pick up stabilizer for it at the warehouse.”

Will gave a quick nod, then turned to follow Liz and Tammy to a table with the remains of a breakfast of boiled eggs, ham, biscuits, white gravy, coffee, and juice.

Tammy looked at the buffet. “I don’t eat…”

Will interrupted and stepped up to the table, “Suit yourself. Go sit down, and we’ll join you in a minute.”

Tammy picked up a plate, a biscuit, and a glass of juice. She carried the small meal to the table and settled on a chair looking as if waiting to be sentenced, knowing in a sense, that was what it would be.

Liz and Will stood at the buffet, adding biscuit, gravy, ham, and eggs to their plates. Each carried cups of coffee to the table, then Liz went back for juice for both her and her father. When all three were seated and eating, Will continued his conversation from earlier.

“Young lady, despite all you’ve seen, you seem to have failed to grasp the fact that you have nothing to offer to this brave new world. Now, that said, we offer you a chance to become a productive member of society.”

Tammy looked up from nibbling at the dry biscuit long enough to mumble. “Thank you.”

Liz was enjoying the food. She imagined her child and smiled at the thought of him growing with the high-calorie diet of late. Suddenly she was snapped back to the conversation around her.

“And to ensure you stay on track, my daughter will be the one to guide your development of new skills. She will see that you find a niche to aid our community.”

Liz looked on in horror. “I’m sure…”

Will reached over to cover Liz’s hand with his own. “I’m confident that two mature women will be able to work something out.” He stood. “Meanwhile, I have a lot on my plate this morning. Liz, don’t forget to find her a place to sleep.”

Liz sat, staring at her father’s retreating back. Finally, she whispered under her breath, “Coward.”

Tammy laughed. First, it was a chuckle, then she saw Liz smile, she burst into a full belly laugh. Reluctantly, Liz joined in.

Shaking her head, but still smiling, Liz returned her attention to her plate. Around a piece of ham, she asked.”So, back home, did you live in a condo or an apartment?”

“Neither. I inherited an eighty-year-old three-bedroom craftsman from my great aunt,” Tammy answered. “Mind if I get a bit more breakfast?”

“No. Of course not,” Liz answered.

When she came back, Tammy had ham, coffee, another biscuit with packets of butter and jelly. “The house was a mess.” She smiled at the memory as she added.”Probably hadn’t been touched since my aunt moved in when she was a twenty-year-old war bride. The woodwork was beautiful, and just needed a lot of elbow grease. Of course, back then, I was working on a budget, so I did all the painting, water lines, new electrical…oh, I added high-speed internet lines, media, the whole shooting match. It’s amazing what you can learn on Youtube,” Her voice trailed off, and her smile disappeared.

“Sounds like it was a lot of work,” Liz responded.

Tammy chuckled. “You wouldn’t have believed how bad the bathrooms were; crumbling tile, mold, and water damage.” She sighed. “It took three years, lots of nightmares all rolled together. I learned a lot, though. I found out about weight-bearing walls, plumbing, electrical, repairing water damage, installing sheetrock, mud, floating tape. The list goes on and on.”

“You managed the contractors?”

“Contractors, hell!” Tammy laughed. “I did most of the work with the help of a cousin that worked construction off and on. When I had a project, Abe was there. He helped when he could, explaining what to do and why then he left me to it. I know how to do almost anything from electrical, plumbing to tiling.” Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “Abe was with me. He died that night the bandits attacked the camp. He was the only family I had left.”

Liz responded softly, “I’m sorry.”

Tammy shrugged. “Abe told me to survive. Have a good life. I don’t see how that’s going to happen.”

Liz laughed. “We all lost people we loved. Are you ready for that new life?” Tammy looked up and nodded, then Liz continued. “Alright. You have skills. With that said, let’s get your bag and get you settled. We have a community store for non-food supplies, anything from shampoo to clothes.”

“That’s unexpected,” Tammy commented.

“It won’t be endless, but we cleaned out a couple discount stores. Threw it all in a parade of eighteen-wheelers. We still haven’t cleaned out all the trailers.” Liz sighed. “There was no organization to what they collected. They cleaned out a whole clothing department in two sporting goods stores. All sizes of sports and hunting clothes when they went to get weapons and survival gear.” Liz laughed. “After that, we started created search lists. We didn’t need any more soccer uniforms. You’ll see a lot of kids all dressed the same.”

Tammy laughed. “Never know. You may want to start team sports.”

Liz stood and smiled. “Let’s get you settled.” She led Tammy back in the great room that served as the entrance of the Pine Springs Lodge where Tammy looked around and actually began to appreciate the care and skill it took to create the rustic beauty. At the side of the expanse was the shaved wood stairs and railing leading up to the second level balcony sporting six doors. Liz led Tammy to the front door where her bag lay.

“This place is beautiful. I heard it was going to open as a hunting lodge.” Tammy commented.

“The website went live two weeks before the attack. A few calls had already come in inquiring about hunting trips,” Liz answered. “Now we worry about who saw the site.”

Tammy picked up her small handbag, and Liz led her up the stairs to an open bedroom door. She turned the wooden plaque on the door to read occupied then prompted Tammy inside. “This will be your room, right next to Dad’s. My room is at the other end of the balcony if you need anything.”

“OMG!” Tammy whispered. “Here?” She looked from the dresser with the TV and DVD player to the woodstove, the curtained window, two queen beds with quilts, to the small bath, and closet.

“I can’t say you’ll always be alone since it has two beds, but for now, this is where you can rest your head. We still have six half-finished cabins and expect more survivors to find their way here.”

“What do you mean?”

Liz laughed. “We have the supplies to finished more cabins. Being this remote, Dad had materials brought in by the truckloads. He just completed phase one. It was cheaper to get all the materials at once. Besides, with the storage sheds of supplies, workmen could always find what they needed.”

“Sure, isn’t anything just around the corner up here,” Tammy agreed.

Liz grinned, “Come on. If you’re up to it, we’re going for a ride and pick up clothes, and I’ll show you around.”

*****

John hung on the side of the truck and guided the Burns family down a gravel path a few hundred yards from the lodge. They rounded a stand of trees, and he pointed to his and Harry’s cabin and explained they shared the home with two children. Cody and Trace who now stood outside the bungalow waving excitedly. John directed Jesse to back up to a second cabin nearby. Cody and Trace ran to the cabin after they parked.

“The general imagined anyone coming up here for hunting would come in groups, so the cabins are set up pretty well for families. The construction was scheduled in two stages with eventually a total of sixteen cabins in total projected. What you see nearest to the lodge is the first group, and that first segment of cabins is completed. They’re rustic, and not fancy, but serviceable.”

“Remember, we lived under tarps and on the run for months,” Jesse laughed. “I’m sure what you can provide will be a hell of a lot better than what we’ve been facing for the last few months.”

Next, to Jesse, Becka sniffled and wiped the back of her hand at the corner of her eye. “It’s perfect. It feels like heaven after the way we’ve been living. She leaned into Jesse and hid a sob. After a full minute, she pulled away and smiled. “Sorry. Guess I’m just a little overtired.”

John laughed. “You haven’t even seen inside.”

Jesse parked the truck, and the family jumped out to find Cody and Trace standing at the cabin waiting and excited to meet the new arrivals.

While the boys played it cool, Trace walked up and grabbed Pattie’s hand. “I’m Trace. You want to be my friend? I have a candy bar. You want some candy?”

Pattie looked shell-shocked, then giggled. “My name is Pattie, I like candy.”

John raised his hand. “Trace, calm down. Pattie and her family are moving in, so you got plenty of time. Let me show the family around then you girls can get to know each other.”

“Yes, sir,” She answered, still with a smile creasing her face. She sat down on the steps with her chin in her hands. “I’ll wait right here.”

“Okay folks. Let’s do the grand tour.” John opened the door with the key and gave it to Jesse. “We’re pretty trusting around here. Of course, none of us have much to steal, so not much point in locking doors when a cabin is not in use.” He stepped inside to the small cabin with a sitting area, a kitchenette with a coffee pot, microwave, a few open shelves with dishes and cups, a sink and back door. John pointed at a darkened hall. “Down there are two bedrooms and up above is a loft with twin beds. There’s a full bath with a shower. Each cabin has a cistern setup that catches rainwater from the metal roof. The water is filtered and used in the showers and toilet. Well, water feeds both sinks and is potable. The water heaters are solar-powered and on-demand. The storage batteries can also be charged by heat from the stove during winter, but you have to remember, you leave a bunch of lights on, and the batteries run out you get a cold shower and are left sitting in the dark.” John laughed. “That’s freezing cold showers in winter. Also, keep in mind, the cistern is the only water source for the shower. Run it dry, and you’ll be hoping for rain and taking spit baths until it does.”

Pattie looked confused. “What’s a spit bath? Sounds, gross!”

Everyone laughed.

“We’ll discuss it later, Pattie. What about meals?” Becka asked.

“All meals are served at the main lodge. Three a day. Breakfast is between six and eight, lunch is served from eleven to one and dinner between five to seven. Now that said, and shit happens, so exceptions are made, and if you come back late, there will be some around to reheat something.”

“Thank you. I think we can work with that. If you need help in the kitchen, I have experience in the area,” Becka volunteered.

“I’ve already discussed that with Will. They’ll be glad to know that you’re willing to help in the kitchen. Now that said, we need to discuss some rules we’ve established around here. If someone gets sick or injured, no matter how minor, they see the doc. Someone goes off-site, they get screened at the lodge. No exceptions.”

“No problem. It sounds reasonable.” Jesse agreed. “Where is the garage? You said something about me and LJ working there.”

“Will agreed it would fill a real void that we have. I’ve been filling in, but I just don’t have the skill, for damned sure,” John answered. “Oh, I almost forgot. Be sure to close bedroom doors at night. Knock and don’t enter until you’re sure the person inside is okay no exceptions.”

“Why?” Becka asked, looking a little confused.

“You know what happens, now. We all have to take precautions. Whether it’s a child or an adult, if a person is sick, be careful about going into a room.”

Suddenly understanding, Becka whispered. “We’ll remember.”

“There’s a battery clock, and a couple LED lamps around. They’re rechargeables, and small solar charger is in the desk drawer. It’s up to you to keep the extra’s charged.” John headed toward the door then turned back. “Jesse, if you want to follow me. There’s a solar-powered golf cart in the garage. The boys rolled it out into the sun this morning so it should be charged up. You can start using it at lunchtime. It’s up to you to keep it charged.”

Jesse stuck out his hand to John. “You folks have done so much. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“You’re part of the community now and will be filling a need,” John answered. “You folks get cleaned up, and familiar with the place. I’ll be at the maintenance shed down by the community store if you want to ride down to pick up some clothes. Otherwise, Trace will be hanging around since she’s excited to have a new friend so if you need anything, she’ll probably know who, what, when, or where. We did clean out a Bass Pro, so we have shoes and clothes. Not much for style, but it’s new.”

Harry added. “We have a lake about a mile back in the canyon that is stocked with trout and catfish if you’re interested.”

Jesse laughed and gave him a thumbs-up. “LJ and I will be ready for that fishing trip when you have time.”

If you enjoyed reading the first chapter of Escape Texas Dead, remember, all the Torn Apart books can be found on Amazon.