The Hermit Chapter 3


The Hermit - Chapter 3

Neal debated for a while whether to show anyone the tunnel and the items stored in it. He took Dwayne aside one day and asked him, “You’ve been out and about on the property quite a bit. Tell me what you’ve found.”

Dwayne grinned. “The garage, you mean? Just the outside. Don’t have a clue to what’s inside.”

“You told anyone else about it?”

“I started to. David is the head honcho of the family… But I got to thinking. This is your place. You’re entitled to have secrets if you want to. Others are bound to find it eventually. We’re an adventuresome bunch.”

“So I’ve noticed. Well, since you know, you might as well know more about it, in case something were to happen to me.”

“Don’t joke about things like that. You can jinx it.”

Neal laughed and the two headed to the Suburban, when Neal nodded toward it. Neal drove into the woods. Both men were armed, not for hunting, but for trouble, just in case. Neal unlocked one of the end doors of the tunnel when they got to it and slid it up high enough for the Suburban to get into the tunnel.

Neal stopped the truck and got out, going over to the near vertical wall. He tripped a switch and the lights came on. He flipped another switch and the wind-up door behind them lowered to a close. Neal said, “Has it’s own PV power system.”

“Um,” Dwayne grunted. “Didn’t spot it. I’m slipping.”

Pointing out the trailers, Neal explained what each one was for. He didn’t say anything about the tarp covered items stored on plastic pallets that took up much of the additional space, leaving only a lane wide enough to drive the Suburban through, with one of the trailers attached.

Dwayne helped Neal connect up the utility trailer and Neal showed him how to transfer fuel from the trailer directly to the Suburban’s tanks through a hose that was part of the hitch hook-up package. With that done, Neal drove out of the tunnel after Dwayne opened the opposite end door. Dwayne killed the lights and tripped the door closer before ducking out beneath the door as it closed.

He got into the Suburban and Neal took the roundabout route required to access the tunnel from this end. Turning back onto the track into the clear, Neal parked and the two of them got out, as a small group gathered around, curious about the appearance of the trailer.

“Had it hidden out in the woods,” was all Dwayne would say.

“I thought you were going to hire a truck and trailer,” Elizabeth said, standing nearby. “A big rig.”

“I am,” Neal replied. “This trailer isn’t big enough for the size greenhouses I’m thinking about, but it carries spare fuel. More than enough for what I want to do.”

“Oh,” was all Elizabeth said, looking over the trailer with interest, just as the others were.

“Dwayne,” Neal said, “Let me get a few things out of the house and one of the sheds and we can go see what we can do about getting those greenhouses.”

“I think Dwayne better stay here and help with security,” Elizabeth immediately said. “Maybe get a deer when he’s out scouting around. I’ll go with you. I’m sure I can do anything you had planned for him.”

Dwayne knew better than to argue. He disappeared in a hurry, leaving Neal to deal with the situation on his own.

“Are you sure you want to go back to Sullivan this soon after what’s happened?”

“I’m fine. What do you want me to bring along?”

“You’ll probably need a heavier coat. We might be gone for a while. Work gloves. Bring a gun, just in case.”

Elizabeth paled just slightly as Neal’s final words, but turned away and headed for the big motorhome. She was back in a few minutes, with a small backpack, over which was lashed a heavy coat. Her favorite center fire rifle was slung over one shoulder. “I guess I’m ready,” she said, going to the front passenger door of the Suburban.

Neal got in the driver’s seat, without a word. There was very little talk during the drive to Sullivan. Neal consulted the write-in-the-rain notebook he habitually carried in his shirt pocket to find the address of the man with the operating semi truck.

When they arrived at the place, which was actually a mile outside of Sullivan proper, Neal tooted the horn when he stopped in front of a four horizontal pipe gate in a chain link fence. A few moments later Neal and Elizabeth saw someone come out of a large garage/workshop building.

The man looked at the Suburban a long time before he approached the gate. “What do you want?” he asked, one hand out of sight behind his back. Neal assumed he had a pistol or revolver in the small o f his back.

“I’m Neal Grant,” Neal said, stepping halfway out of the Suburban. “I heard you have an operating rig and some trailers. I may have a job for you.”

“Got no fuel, mister. Can’t go more’n five miles and back.”

“I have fuel,” Neal said. Enough for what I want you to do initially, and a little more, for your time and trouble.”

The man perked up slightly. “Okay. Come on in. We can discuss it.” He swung the heavy gate open and Neal drove inside the man’s small truck compound. There were half a dozen trucks and something over fifteen trailers, of several different kinds.

Neal and Elizabeth got out of the Suburban, leaving their rifles behind. But Neal had his Glock on his hip. “George Hansen,” the man said, holding out a hand for Neal to shake. He didn’t offer it to Elizabeth. “What’s this about fuel? Is it some of that rotgut The King had? Don’t want any of it. Had to pull and clean the entire fuel system on my truck after running a couple of gallons of it.”

That The King had found some fuel was news to Neal. He made a mental note, but said nothing about it. “No,” he replied. “This is stabilized fuel from just before the war. I will guarantee it is good. I’m running it in my truck right now.”

“Well, you got here… from somewhere… so it should be good. How much do you have?”

“Like I said,” Neal replied, “Enough for what I want you to do initially, and a little more, for your time and trouble.”

“Yeah. Sure. Now, what is it you want me to do?”

“If I can find what I’m looking for, I want you to haul it back from Union.”

“What is it? What kind of trailer would I need?” George asked.

“Flat bed I would think. It’s greenhouse parts, again, if I can find them.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. You going to be along for protection? It’s not real safe out there.”

“I would. Probably three, maybe four, of us.”

“Okay. When?”

“We’re going up there now to find out if the greenhouses are there. If they are, we’d make the deal, and then come back for you. If you’re willing we can fill your tanks now.”

“You’ll trust me with the fuel? What if there aren’t any greenhouses there?”
“I’ve heard you’re trustworthy. If we can’t get greenhouses in Union, we try Rolla,” answered Neal. Elizabeth was taking it all in.

“Well, if you’re game, and you can guarantee my safety and the safety of the truck then I’ll go.”

“You understand I can’t guarantee anything unequivocally, just that we’d do everything possible to protect you and the equipment.”

“I suppose that’s only reasonable. The big danger is gone. That kid that called himself ‘The King’ is dead, burned, and his ashes blown away. That was one mean, sick, puppy. Somebody did the world a favor when they killed him. Almost did it myself. Wanted time with my daughter for some food. Angelique is only thirteen.”

Neither Neal nor Elizabeth commented.

“So,” George continued, “Let’s get this show on the road. Pull the trailer over here by this truck.” George walked over to an older model MACK ten wheel truck equipped with a fifth-wheel.

Neal did so and they filled the twin fifty gallon saddle tanks from the utility trailer. “Nice rig you have here,” George said, looking the trailer over carefully. “And that Suburban isn’t stock, either, is it?”

Neal shook his head. “A few modifications.” He didn’t go into details, despite the hopeful look on George’s face.

With the fueling done, Neal and Elizabeth got back into the Suburban and left George’s, heading for Union to look for the greenhouse sales and nursery that had been there before the war. Hopefully it would still be there.

Neal picked up I-44 and they were on their way. He was able to make fairly good speed, even weaving in and out of the EMP stalled vehicles. All the overpasses and bridges were intact, though Neal slowed down and then stopped to inspect them before crossing.

The only people they saw were what looked like two keeping an eye on three head of cattle in a field adjacent to the Interstate. It was eerie when the got off the Interstate onto the local road to Union, which was north of the Interstate a few miles. There weren’t any signs of life anywhere until they got into Union.

And then, no one indicated they wanted anything to do with Neal, Elizabeth, or the Suburban. Everyone that Neal and Elizabeth saw either just stood and stared, or scurried away out of sight.

Neal made a couple of turns and they were on the edge of the town again. They saw the sign at the same time. Elizabeth pointed in that direction and Neal started slowing down. The place occupied a few acres of fenced ground. Neal stopped at the double roll apart chain link fence gates.

The two sat and looked for a few moments at the entrance. They couldn’t really see much as various sized trees where everywhere. Neal got out of the Suburban, carrying his BM-59. Elizabeth had her rifle. Walking up to the closed gates carefully, Neal noticed that there was a chain, with a lock on it, but the chain wasn’t wrapped and the lock was open.

“Hello!” Neal called out, startling Elizabeth slightly. “Anyone here?”

“Wait here,” Neal told Elizabeth. He opened the gates slightly and slipped through.

Elizabeth began to get nervous when she hadn’t seen or heard anything for a good fifteen minutes. But Neal appeared from out of the trees. He had a smile on his face. “Found someone,” he told Elizabeth and began to push one of the gates open.

Elizabeth hurried forward and opened the other one enough for them to get the Suburban through. Both got back into the truck and Neal drove forward, leaving the gate open behind them. He pulled around the side of the building Elizabeth finally saw, turned the rig around, and parked beside a roll up door that was being raised. Elizabeth saw a middle aged man and woman step outside.

The woman carried a double barrel shotgun, and the man had a pistol of some kind in a full flap holster on his left hip. Neal got out and introduced Elizabeth. “Elizabeth, this is Rachael and Hiram Golden. They own and operate this place.”

A quick round of handshakes and Rachael stepped back beside the door opening and stood there, the shotgun cradled in her arms.

Hiram led Neal and Elizabeth toward the back of the property. “What you want is back here.”

There wasn’t much to see. Just two dozen tarp covered pallets stacked behind the nursery’s large commercial greenhouse. “Two of them. Bigger than the hobbyists want around here and too small for a real commercial operation. Didn’t have any luck selling them before. You sure caught me by surprise wanting them now. Had forgotten all about them until you asked.”

Hiram looked at Neal anxiously. “We’re doing okay with our original plant stocks and seeds, but I know it won’t reproduce true, if at all. You really have those open pollinated seeds the way you say you do?”

“I do for a fact, Neal said. “A full case of six number ten cans, all non-hybrid seeds. Plus I’ll throw in starters from my garden. They’re all non-hybrid, too.”

“One would think a nursery would be better prepared for something like this,” Hiram said sadly. “Having to buy seeds from the customers. Sad.”

“To be honest, I’m a bit surprised you still have any stock at all,” Neal said, as he and Elizabeth followed Hiram into the standing greenhouse. They could tell that Hiram loved his plants. While there were still some ornamentals and tree seedlings, the entire remaining growing area was dedicated to vegetables, with the exception of what Neal first took to be an herb garden. Upon seeing some of the name stakes by the plants, he realized it was both a cooking herb garden as well as a medicinal plant garden.

“I think people know that I can produce so much more here, with all my equipment and supplies, than they could by taking it over and dispersing things to individuals or operating here, themselves. There is a whole group that come in and help me, for some of the vegetables. The rest we have no trouble trading away for our other needs. Meat and such. Just don’t have anyone here today.”

“That’s good,” Neal replied. “Not every community can pull together like that. So. Do we have a deal?”

Hiram nodded and shook Neal’s hand when he held it out. “If you’ll help me, we can load the rototillers and other things you want into your trailer.”

Elizabeth went along and carried what she could from the storeroom to the trailer. Hiram and Neal used a propane pallet truck to load four pallets onto the trailer, making the trailer squat some on its suspension.

When the load was strapped down, Neal went over to Hiram carrying the case of LTS canned seeds. Hiram took it in one hand and shook hands again with Neal, with his other.

“We’ll be back tomorrow, probably, for the greenhouses,” Neal said. With that, he pulled the Suburban and trailer out of the compound, Elizabeth rolled the gates closed, but didn’t lock them, and got in the passenger seat beside Neal.

“That was relatively easy,” Neal said as he headed for the Interstate.

“Sure seems so,” Elizabeth replied. She got out and helped Neal check the tie downs on the trailer when the got to the Interstate. Everything was fine and they set off again.

Both were on alert the whole time until Neal parked the Suburban and trailer by the Lusby.

To Elizabeth’s surprise, Neal had her help him unstuck some firewood, exposing the Bobcat Toolcat. She hadn’t been looking forward to moving everything on the pallets by hand. The Toolcat made quick work of it, using the pallet forks. Neal stacked the pallets out of the way, as most of the Magnew clan watched the interesting vehicle at work. No one, except Dwayne, had known it was there.

Elizabeth helped Neal gather up some seed potatoes, and dig out a few of his guerrilla garden plants to take the next day to give to Hiram, and then the two went their own ways for the evening. But Elizabeth was up and ready to go the next morning.

Uncle Chuck and Dwayne would be the other two going, using the mini-van, refueled from the trailer. The ground was firm enough and dry enough that Chuck was able to drive it out, though it was a bit iffy in a couple of places on Neal’s track of a road.

After stopping at George’s and helping him connect a flatbed trailer to the MACK truck, the three vehicles headed for Union, with Neal in the lead again, and Chuck and Dwayne bringing up the rear. Neal had handed out FRS radios so everyone had one. Though anyone attempting to interfere with them would probably be disappointed in the take, they wouldn’t know that until after the fact. The group kept a good watch out, just in case.

There was more interest taken in them when they went through Union this time. When Neal stopped at the gate of the nursery and greenhouse sales yard, he noticed a few people were walking toward them, all still at some distance.

“Would you close up the gate after we’re all inside?” he asked Elizabeth.

She saw the people, too. “Lock it?” Elizabeth asked.

“Not my call. I’ll find Hiram and ask. Hang by the gate, if you will, until I call you on the radio.”

Elizabeth nodded and hopped out of the Suburban, taking her rifle with her. Neal drove forward after she had the gate pushed open. He hurriedly pulled forward, around the side of the nursery warehouse and got out.

The commotion and sound of the semi going through the gears had brought Hiram and Rachael outside. “Hiram,” Neal quickly said, taking the offered hand for a quick shake, “there are several other people approaching. Should I have Elizabeth lock the gate?”

“No. I’m sure it’s just some of the townspeople curious about the activity.”

Neal hesitated, but he let it go and called Elizabeth on the radio. “Hiram says to leave it be. Come on back here.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth replied and headed back to join the others.

Hiram was already on the forklift when Elizabeth came up. Neal motioned her over to join Rachael, just inside the door of the shop. She couldn’t see Dwayne or Chuck and decided that Neal had positioned them in tactical positions, in case there was trouble.

Neal himself was on the semi trailer, guiding Hiram with the placement of the pallets on it. Three pallets were loaded when six people, five men and a woman, came around from the front of the building and walked up to the forklift. Hiram stopped it and began to talk to the six.

Jumping off the trailer, Neal joined them. “What’s going on,” he asked, coming up on the forklift on the side opposite the group.

“That’s what we’d like to know,” said one of the men.

“I was telling them that you had bought the old greenhouse kits.”

“And?” Neal asked.

The same man spoke again. “I’m not sure we should allow that. The town may need that equipment sometime.”

“Isn’t it Hiram’s, not the town’s?”

“Technically. But things have changed,” said the woman. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of one.”

“Is that what you think, Hiram?” asked Neal.

“Now, see here,” Hiram responded, “I’ve been feeding this town since the beginning, just for a little bit of help. Now this man has brought us the means to grow not only more now, but to grow at all in the future. Without the open-pollinated seeds he has, I wouldn’t get more than another year’s crop, if that.”

“Is that so?” asked the second of the five men in the group.

Neal nodded. “It is.”

“Well, I don’t like it!” the woman said, her voice rising somewhat. “Everything in the town should belong to the townspeople now.”

“I’m not even in town, actually,” Hiram interjected.

The woman scowled at him.

“Just another technicality,” came from the third man.

“You do plan on sharing your good fortune with the town, don’t you, Hiram?” It was the fourth man speaking this time. He was the shortest of the men, and the heaviest. But he had a quiet authority about him that Neal picked up on immediately.

“Of course I do!” Hiram was a bit indignant. “Haven’t I since the start of all this?”

“You have. And it is most appreciated. We won’t interfere in this transaction you’ve made. But Hiram, do consult us in the future before you trade away our goods.”

Neal was happy that there appeared that there wouldn’t be any trouble, but he didn’t like the way Hiram was being treated. And from the look on his face, Hiram didn’t much care for it, either.


“Then, if you don’t mind,” Hiram said, “Get out of the way and let me go about taking care of this particular trade.”

“Of course, said the short man. “But just remember what I’ve said.” The six turned as one and marched off.

With a head motion, Neal sent Dwayne after them to verify they left the property. A few moments later and Dwayne’s voice came over the radio. “They’re gone.”

“Ask him to lock the gate,” a very annoyed Hiram said.

“Lock it down,” Neal said into the radio. Dwayne didn’t respond, but Neal knew that the gate was now well secured.

“Let me tell you something,” Hiram said. Neal rather wished he would start the forklift again rather than talk, but said nothing and just listened. “I don’t care for being told what to do. No siree!” Hiram had been looking at the edge of the building the six had gone around. He looked back at Neal. “So why don’t you just look around and select anything you want that you can get on this trailer and the one yon behind your truck.”

“That’s not necessary,” Neal said.

“Is in my book. It is my stuff. Not just technically. And I’ll dispose of it myself, any way I’m a mind.”

“Okay. But let’s get the greenhouses loaded first.”

Hiram grinned at Neal suddenly. “Sure thing. First things first.”

Hiram didn’t speed up on the forklift any, as he was very good with it anyway. The pallets were loaded a few minutes later and Hiram killed the forklift and motioned Neal over to him.

“Let’s see what else is here that you just can’t live without.”

A bit reluctantly, but understanding Hiram’s desire, and intending to sweeten the pot anyway, Neal went with him. Ten minutes later, with Elizabeth looking on questioningly, Hiram was back on the forklift, adding six pallets to the semi-trailer, along with fully ten large tree saplings. Four pallets went onto Neal’s trailer. She saw Hiram seem to argue with Neal, and try to refuse to take something, but then take whatever it was and shake Neal’s hand.

The two walked over to the Suburban and Elizabeth hurried forward to help unload the rest of the items they’d brought as part of the trade for the greenhouses. “I’ll go get the gate,” Hiram said, after everything was inside the building and Rachael was cranking down the door.

Neal gathered his small group together and told them, “We could have a little trouble when we leave. I doubt there’ll be any shooting, but be ready, none the less.”

Everyone nodded and went to their vehicles, with Elizabeth joining George in the semi. Neal motioned for Chuck, driving the mini-van to go first and then George, in the semi. He would take up the rear position. If anything happened it would probably take a few seconds to develop and Neal wanted the others out of the way.

When they went around the building and were in the open lane between the other saplings Neal saw Hiram standing defiantly beside the gatepost. Chuck shot through the open gate, George right on his tail, running up the gears expertly to gain speed as quickly as possible.

The small group was reacting, and not favorably. They moved to block Neal inside the property, since he hadn’t sped through the way the others had. Neal came to a stop, the driver’s window down, and the muzzle of the AUG pointed out.

“If I find out anything has happened to Hiram, you’ll want to make yourselves scarce, whether you are responsible or not. Because I am holding you responsible.”

One of the men made move with his hand toward the small of his back and Neal triggered two quick rounds past his head. “Don’t,” Neal said, voice and eyes hard. “I won’t fire a warning shot next time. ‘bye, Hiram.”

“See ya, Neal,” a grinning Hiram replied, with a wave, as Neal tromped the accelerator and took off. Hiram began closing one of the gates when the short man turned toward him.

“You’re on notice, Hiram,” said the man. “You do anything we don’t like and you are dead and we take over the operation ourselves.”

“I otta just let you do it anyway and watch you slowly starve yourselves to death.” Hiram finished closing the gates and locked them with something of a flourish and a triumphant grin.

Neal got on the radio as soon as he was far enough away from the nursery not to have to worry about getting shot and answered the continuing radio calls about what had happened and if he was all right. He finally got Elizabeth settled down and the short convoy headed for Sullivan, and then Neal’s.

There was no way George’s truck would make it all the way in to the compound, the ground was just too soft and the road too rough. George stopped at place he could see that he could turn around and stopped.

Neal sent Chuck and Dwayne the rest of the way in to get the Toolcat and bring it back. “We’ll unload here and then move the pallets and trees in my trailer the rest of the way.”

“Sorry I couldn’t go any further. I just can’t risk the truck,” George said in apology.

“Don’t worry about it,” Neal said. I didn’t think you’d be able to make it. It’s not a problem.”

When George’s trailer was unloaded and he was ready to leave, he shook Neal’s hand and said. “Thanks. I’ve got plenty of fuel to do some other jobs now. They’ll get me and my family some groceries. Thanks. And If I can help again, I’m willing to do so for the same deal.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Neal said. He and Elizabeth got into the Suburban, and with Dwayne carrying one pallet on the forks of the Toolcat following, they headed for the compound.

It took a couple of hours to get everything moved and situated, and almost a week to get the fruit and nut trees that had become part of the bargain planted with the backhoe attachment on the Toolcat.

It took another two days to clear the area chosen for the greenhouses, grade it, and otherwise get it ready to erect the two greenhouses. Though it wouldn’t have passed an OSHA inspection, one of the wooden pallets, with four more fastened securely to it and each other as an enclosure, worked adequately with the Toolcat forks as a work platform to help erect the structures. It took three weeks to complete them.

The rest of the inhabitants of the compound didn’t sit idly by as six of them worked on the greenhouses. Another area had been cleared for a large conventional garden, and, under David’s guidance, was tilled and prepared for planting. As is always the case, the young children walked the garden plot, picking up and moving the rocks the tilling turned up.

When things were ready to plant, Elizabeth got slightly upset when Neal brought out the hybrid seeds that he had stored, plus some that were in the deal with Hiram. “If you didn’t have more non-hybrid seeds, why did you trade all those off to Hiram? What are we going to do long term.”

“Elizabeth, please,” David said, trying to calm his sister down. “I’m sure Neal has a reason.” David’s voice didn’t match his stated assurance.

“Of course I do. I have plenty more non-hybrids. But they are packed to keep long term. We’ll lose these if they aren’t used. We’ll use hybrid until they run out and switch the following year to the LTS seeds.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said, hanging her head. She finally looked up at Neal and said, “I’m sorry. It’s just things are going to be so close this year. We aren’t going to have the luxury of another grocery truck showing up in the nick of time this fall. If the garden and greenhouses don’t produce, some of us could starve.”

“I won’t let that happen,” Neal said softly.

“There might not be anything you can do about it,” Elizabeth said.

“I promise,” Neal said, in a very insistent tone of voice. Elizabeth found herself believing him implicitly.

Everyone worked the rest of that month and into the next, getting the gardens established, including the guerrilla garden that Neal insisted on continuing. Neal had learned what gardening he knew from the Internet and from books. David was an avid gardener, as was his wife, though she tended more toward flowers. Neal was left to do most of the hunting while the Magnews handled the gardening.

Another of Neal’s early enquiries came to light when he showed up after a solo trip to Sullivan, with the trailer. He came back with some building materials, four more chickens, six piglets, a rabbit buck and four rabbit does.

The children were given a few additional duties, once the rabbit hutches and the pigpen and shelter were completed. The rabbits were fun. The pigs were a chore. Four more chickens didn’t make that much difference in their workload.

Elizabeth asked, her annoyance obvious, what Neal had traded away for everything. “Doesn’t matter,” he replied with a smile known to get her dander up. “Your family is doing all the work. I just sit back and eat. More than even trade, in my book.”

“You are just absolutely impossible sometimes!” she replied and stalked off.

Much as the winter had been much worse that normal before the war, the summer was, as well. Hot and dry. Fortunately, they had plenty of water. They were able to give the gardens and greenhouses all the water they needed. They even hauled water in buckets in the back of the Toolcat to the established fruit and nut trees as well as the newly planted ones. The same with the berry patches.

Neal rigged up a fountain and a mister system by the pond. Elizabeth and the other women managed to come up with bathing suits for the clan, including trading for some one Saturday when Neal didn’t go in, going hunting instead. When he got back with several squirrels and quail they were just arriving in the mini-van.

Elizabeth gave him a triumphant look and Neal didn’t bawl her out the way he wanted to. Things were still too dangerous for women traveling alone. Especially if they were only armed with bolt-action hunting rifles and a .32 H&R revolver.

But Neal was more than appreciative of the sight of the women in their bikinis, particularly Elizabeth. Enough so that he avoided it.

Things were going quite well, except for running low on sugar. Neal went shopping, alone again, to the trading post that was still being held in Sullivan at Carmello’s store every Saturday. There wasn’t much to be found. However, Neal did find a ready supply of honey, in return for some of the early fresh vegetables and fruits that were now appearing on Neal’s property.

Another set of deals garnered two large pressure canners, a remarkable number of canning jars, plenty of rings, and a disappointing number of lids, along with a Ball Blue Book of canning instructions and recipes.

Neal put the word out he was in the market for the lids and would pay a premium in trade goods, gold, or silver. He knew, that if push came to shove, he’d break out some of those he had stored in the tunnel and the cave.

He was getting over confident, not having encountered any sign of trouble for two months going back and forth to town. Enough trips were made, observed by enough people, that the compound’s general location became known to the wrong set of people. Words of his trades had also spread.

It was about three in the afternoon when a radio call came in from Dwayne. As usual, when he wasn’t doing something specific, he was out keeping an eye on the place from outside. The voice was hushed and Neal had to put his walky-talky right up to his ear to hear.

“Trouble, Neal,” he said quickly but calmly. “That rock climber Jeep and the motorcycles of The King’s have fallen into different hands. But I don’t think better ones. There’s eight guys, all armed, just now busting through the fence. You want me to start sniping?”

Neal almost said yes, but suddenly changed his mind. “No. Not till we know for sure their intentions.”

“Don’t dawdle,” came the reply and the radio fell silent.

Neal had insisted on some tactical drills, and everyone knew what to do. Up to a point. Non-combatants were to be rounded up and hidden in the best place possible. Neal had left that place rather vague. No longer. He ran to Elizabeth, gave her a key to the tunnel, along with precise directions how to get there. “Get everyone locked in down there. Dwayne, Chuck, and I will take care of this.”

Elizabeth looked into Neal’s eyes and she saw the determination there to protect her and her family. She nodded and turned to the RV’s to get everyone moving.

Neal yelled at Chuck and he came running with is hunting rifle. Neal grabbed the BM-59, put a 100-round dual drum in it, and handed it and a musette bag of more magazines to Chuck, saying, “Use this. I’ll use the AUG.”

“Absolutely!” Chuck said. He’d been one of several that Neal had allowed to use the BM-59 for some practice. Chuck knew how to handle it. Neal drove probably faster than he should have, to get as far away from the compound as possible, before he encountered the Jeep. But there the Jeep suddenly was, just coming around a sharp curve in track as Neal came around one at the other end of one of the few straight stretches in the road. Both vehicles stopped.

Neal reached down and picked up the microphone of the PA system the Suburban had built in. “What do you want? You’re trespassing! Turn around and go back and there won’t be any problems!”

Neal could barely hear the shouted reply. “You gonna die, Man! We want your stuff! All of it!”

A shot rang out. Neal knew it wasn’t him, Chuck, or Dwayne. It had to be the trespassers. In less time than it took to Neal come to the conclusion, another shot rang out and one of the men in the back of the Jeep fell out of it. “Dwayne,” Neal whispered.

Chuck opened his door and stepped out of the Suburban, staying behind the door. He fired round after round. Between him and Dwayne the odds were whittled down to three to three in short order. Two in the Jeep and one on a motorcycle. The other three cyclists were down, as were two of the Jeep passengers, and the trespassers had fired only twice more. But one of those two rounds found a target. It hit Chuck in the lower leg and he went down.

“Go! Go! Go!” Chuck yelled, kicking the passenger door closed. “I’m okay for now.”

The Jeep was turning around and Neal slid behind the wheel of the Suburban, dropped it in gear and took off after it, not seeing the final motorcycle rider, and a bit worried about that fact. He needn’t have.

The motorcycle came charging out of the forest on Neal’s front left side. The rider was pointing a shotgun one handed toward Neal. Before Neal could twitch the steering wheel to try and avoid the shot the motorcyclist fell over the handlebars and he and the motorcycle tumbled half a dozen times, ending up in a tangled mess.

Dwayne stepped out of the forest and pointed frantically several times in the direction the Jeep had disappeared into the forest.

“Is he crazy?” Neal asked, gunning the Suburban and heading for the narrow opening through which the Jeep had gone. Neal had to slow significantly to maneuver in the forest, barely able to get between some of the trees the Jeep had gone between.

The Jeep was as wide as the Suburban, but barely half as long. The driver of the Jeep had underestimated the maneuverability of the Suburban. Though he had to go slow, Neal took the Suburban everywhere the Jeep went, using the rear steering to swing the rear of the truck around into a straight shot in the tightest of the turns.

Neal began to wonder if he shouldn’t just get out and run to try to catch up with the Jeep, the going was so slow. But he kept getting glimpses of the Jeep not that far ahead of him. Every once in a while a shot would ring out, but Neal never saw where any of them went. None hit the Suburban, so he didn’t care about the others.

Almost ready to try a quick one handled shot with the AUG, the Jeep broke into one of the small clearings that were located here and there on Neal’s twenty-six acres. Except, Neal suddenly realized, they were now on State land, not his.

He almost stopped, but another shot came and it hit the snorkel pipe running down the windshield post. So Neal gunned the Suburban again and burst out of the forest not far behind the Jeep. The man shooting was standing in the front passenger seat, trying to brace against the highly modified Jeep’s roll cage. But the terrain was just too rough for any kind of accuracy.

The man suddenly dropped the rifle he’d been using to grab onto the roll cage when he almost fell out of the Jeep when the driver swerved sharply. Neal swerved even sharper and made up most of the space between the two vehicles, now approaching at a moderate angle.

Neal floored the accelerator and was able to catch the Jeep enough to put the tree pusher roller into the left rear corner of the Jeep. With the high lift the Jeep had, and the huge, soft tires, the Jeep bounced, swerved, bounced twice more and then went tumbling, tires and suspension parts going flying, in best monster truck racing fashion.

The Jeep passenger, much like the last motorcyclist, tumbled with the Jeep, finally being flipped twenty feet away as the vehicle came to a stop, lying on the passenger side. Neal stopped the Suburban and ran forward to the Jeep, drawing his Glock as he did so, the AUG having slid off the passenger seat of the truck to land on the floor.

Neal slowed down when he got close to the Jeep. The way the driver was hanging in the harness, Neal was sure he was dead. Sure enough, when Neat stepped up and checked, the man was dead from a broken neck.

Running over to where the Jeep passenger had landed, Neal checked him, too. There was no way to tell what had actually killed him. The body was a limp mass of pink, bloody flesh. Worried about Chuck, Neal quickly went back to the Suburban and headed back to check on him. Dwayne was already there, tending to the injured ankle.

Neal got out the Suburban’s extensive first-aid kit and handed it to Dwayne. Neal had taken some training, but Dwayne seemed to know exactly what to do for the dangerous injury. “You have narcotics in here! Morphine! And antibiotics! Even Tamiflu!” Dwayne said, taking out an all-in-one blood stopper type bandage.

“I knew a good doctor. He set me up for bad times.”

“Well, good. This will help. He’s going to be in a lot of pain for a little while. I got to tell you, Chuck. You’re one lucky man.”

“Oh, yeah?” Chuck groaned, “How do you figure that?”

“Bullet went right between the tibia and fibula and out the back side. You lost some blood, but Neal has some Normal Saline Solution we can get into you to expand your blood and reduce shock. But I can’t do that out here. Neal, lets get him in the back of the Suburban. This is going to hurt, Chuck.”

“Oh… Yeah… Any chance of that morphine yet?”

“Not yet,” Dwayne said. “Soon. Hang in there, Uncle Chuck.”

Neal helped Dwayne get Chuck into the back of the Suburban, ran back for the first-aid kit, and then drove carefully back to the compound. Neal helped Dwayne again, to get Chuck into the trailer he shared with a couple of others.

“I’ll go get Elizabeth and the others. I sent them down to the tunnel.”

Dwayne’s eyes cut over to Neal, and then back, without saying anything. Neal would find out soon enough.

And Neal did. He trotted all the way to the tunnel. When he knocked on the roll-up door and yelled, “It’s me! Neal! Open up.”

As soon as the door lifted and he saw the look on Elizabeth’s face and in her eyes he cringed. “Uh… Everything is all right… Except Chuck. He’s been shot.”

At the multiple cries of alarm, Neal quickly added. “In the lower leg. Dwayne say’s he’ll be fine.”

Totally ignoring Neal, Elizabeth turned to the others and said. “Come along. Here, Ellie. Let me take little June.” With a rifle over one shoulder and the baby in her arms, Elizabeth led the way back to the compound, David bringing up the rear, carrying one of the rifles.

Following Elizabeth’s lead, the other Magnews ignored Neal and he went about seeing to the animals and the garden. Dwayne was waiting for him at the Lusby when Neal finally went back there.

“He’s going to be fine, Neal. You’ve got a good first-aid kit and I’m a good medic. Between the two, things will be fine. And it’s not your fault.”

“I think Elizabeth and the others think it is.”

There was a wry smile on Dwayne’s face when he said, “Oh, she and the other adults understand how Chuck got shot and don’t blame you after I explained what happened. It’s the not knowing about the tunnel that has her so upset.”

Neal got a slightly stubborn look on his face. “Well, now see here, I don’t…”

Dwayne lifted a hand and smiled. “Hey. Don’t tell me. I knew about it. I got no quarrel with you.”

Neal fell silent. “Of course not. Sorry. Oh. There is a pair of crutches on one of the pallets in the tunnel. Get them whenever Chuck needs them.”

“Sure thing, pal. Good luck.”

“Good luck? With what?”


Again that smile. “Whatever.” A small wave and Dwayne was walking away.

Neal turned and almost stomped into the Lusby. And almost banged pans around to fix his supper. And almost ate it before he covered the bowl and put it in the little fridge, undressed, and went to bed.

Dwayne went with him early the next morning to take care of the remains of the attackers. It was something of a grisly task. Neal was driving the Toolcat with the backhoe attached and dug the graves close to where they bodies were.

They stripped the body of the first attacker of anything useful, rolled him into his grave and Neal filled it back in with the backhoe while Dwayne watched. Dwayne rode the utility bed of the Toolcat and they went to the next body.

Two of the motorcycles were destroyed beyond repair, but would give replacement and repair parts for the other two. All four were loaded into the bed of the Toolcat. They would deal with the Jeep later.

It took a while and both were dirty and more than a bit depressed when they came back to the compound and split off, each to take a shower and wash some of the dirt and blood and bad feelings away with hot water and soap.

Neal didn’t see Elizabeth for several days. At least not to talk to. She seemed to be in his peripheral vision half the time, but when he turned in her direction she was gone already or walking away.

Then one day she was putting away some tools in one of Neal’s log sheds and Neal came out of the Lusby and walked around it to go to the shed himself. “Oh!” Elizabeth said, quite startled. “I didn’t think you were in there.”

“Just came back to get… Doesn’t matter. Elizabeth, why have you been avoiding me?”

“I think you know,” she replied, her eyes darting to his and then away.

“The tunnel… But I had you and the rest of your family go there so they would be safe!”

“Yes, of course,” Elizabeth replied. “But why didn’t I… why didn’t we know about it beforehand?” Again her eyes cut to Neal’s and this time they stayed there.

Neal almost told her that Dwayne knew about it, but decided that would just get Dwayne in trouble and not help the situation. Instead he said, “Because… Because I’m a miser and a hermit! And it is simply none of your business what I do or what secrets I have!” It was much harsher than he intended, out of frustration that Elizabeth wasn’t even trying to understand. At least the way Neal saw it.

“I see,” Elizabeth said softly, her eyes leaving Neal’s. “I thought… Well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. I was wrong. Excuse me. I need to get back to work.”

She stood there, head down, waiting for Neal to move. Neal wracked his brains for words to correct what he’d done, but none came. He stepped aside and watched Elizabeth walk away.

When they had their first good picking a few weeks later, Elizabeth ignored him as the mini-van, Suburban, and trailer were loaded with boxes and baskets of fresh produce, and several cases of home-canned items. She got into the mini-van with David, along with two of the other women of the group.

Dwayne looked at Neal. He was watching Elizabeth. “Come on,” Dwayne said. “We don’t want them to get too far ahead of us.”

“The gate will stop them.”

“I don’t know,” Dwayne replied, controlling his slight smile. “We still haven’t gotten around to fixing that fence. They might just go through there.”

Neal started, and then hurriedly climbed into the Suburban. Dwayne had to move quickly to get in and get the passenger door closed before Neal put the Suburban in gear and headed after the mini-van.

Those locals that had survived the winter were adjusting to the PAW life. There were many more useful options in the way of trade goods as people learned what was useful and what was not.

There were a few people willing to take gold and silver coins, though none would take bullion bars of either metal. Only easily recognized, small metal content coins. Part of the reason that most of the trades were small. The large amounts of value held in multi-ounce silver and gold bars just weren’t a viable trade medium. Yet.

Most people still wanted goods for goods, goods for services, services for goods, or services for services. The deal Neal had made with David, as head of the Magnew clan, was that Neal would take his share of production directly from them at the compound. Any excess was the Magnews to do with as they chose.

With the secret out about the tunnel and its contents, which had been thoroughly inspected by Elizabeth and the others when they were inside during the attempted attack, Neal began to break out a few of those items and use them for trade purposes.

Neal wondered if Elizabeth realized that most of what he was now bringing to light could not have been effectively used or traded away until after things settled down some. Like they were now.

One of the items, in particular, was a complete bio-diesel production batch plant, with a large store of necessary chemicals to make forty-five gallon batches of diesel for years to come. Neal had even included an oil press to make useable oil from a wide variety of oil crops, when oil salvaged from local restaurants ran out.

What he’d been waiting for was a local farmer with both the means and interest to use the equipment and grow the oil crops, for which Neal had plenty of seed. He was able to cut a deal that day that would provide an ongoing supply of bio-diesel for Neal, plus one calf a year to fatten and butcher, and the regular services of a bull if Neal could find a milk cow. The farmer would furnish supplemental grain to feed the two animals, for a supply of farm hands spring and fall, for planting and harvesting.

Neal talked it over with David. Since the Magnews would be the biggest beneficiaries of the milk and meat, with the family’s agreement, David told Neal to make the deal.

David continued to offer prayer services each time he went to Sullivan, and Dwayne began to do a little medical work, using improvised and adapted materials, along with some of the medical equipment Neal had in storage. He hooked up with a young woman that was knowledgeable of alternative healing practices, including the use of medicinal plants.

Purity was ecstatic when Neal suggested Dwayne ask her to come up to the compound to take a look at his guerrilla garden, which included many naturally occurring useful plants, as well as many that he planted or transplanted to the property. Between her own garden, and this wild garden, Purity told Dwayne that she would be able to make a wide variety of preventatives and treatments.

Neal offered up some 190 proof Everclear, beeswax, petroleum jelly, mineral oil, vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, baby oil, dry bentonite clay dust, and even a small water distillation still to make distilled water for the production of remedies using herbs and minerals.

One more project, that gave the Magnews more mobility and therefore more independence, was the construction of three wood gas generators. Neal had stocked the key components and plenty of welding rod in sealed cans, to make as many as ten of them.

The three that a local welder made for some food and a little gold went on the mini-van, the second pickup truck and the SUV. All three were gasoline powered and relatively easy to adapt by another local man. He was a certified mechanic, but with some jack-leg skills.

All attempts to get the Magnews Dodge diesel truck running were fruitless. No parts could be found to replace the electronic modules fried by the EMP and it was deemed too difficult to try to convert to non-electronic operation, since other vehicles were available.

Neal didn’t know for sure, but suspected that there had been considerable debate among the Magnews on whether to accept Neal’s largess in getting the vehicles up and running on a sustained basis. Elizabeth didn’t seem at all thrilled when one, then another, and finally the third vehicle was demonstrated over the period of a month.

Neal was out hunting, for something to do one early fall day, and found himself thinking about his family. He hadn’t done so in a long time. Neal felt bad about the lapse, and then worse when his thoughts turned to Elizabeth.

“So much for you being a miser or a hermit,” he said aloud, his eyes not seeing the rabbit that hopped rapidly past him sixty feet away.

“Time to do something. Something else. Something where you don’t have to deal with people on a daily basis like you do now.” Neal didn’t even think about just hiding away in the cave for days on end.

“What I should do,” he said to the forest, “is become a nomad. Load up the Suburban… No. Not even take the Suburban. Might be too difficult to get fuel.” Neal smiled a rather sad smile. “I can use the Cabela’s game cart. It’ll carry more than enough for camping and some trade goods that don’t take up much space. Hunt and fish along the way. Do a little trading for the necessities. Just see what the good old USA has become.”

Neal began to implement his plan immediately. He stood up, the hunt forgotten, and walked back to the Lusby, putting the funfling in the holders he’d put on the wall to keep it out of the way. He pulled out his computer from its case, plugged it in, and fired it up.

A few hours of updating the inventories stored on the computer, and a thorough study of what he had, Neal began to make a list. It took him three nights of carefully accessing the cave to get out everything he wanted to take with him, and another day to get the game cart and his big Kifaru EMR backpack packed the way he wanted it.

He rested up another day, wrote a long letter and sealed it in an envelope he put handy, and turned in for what he thought would probably be his last night on the property. It was early the next morning when Neal left the Lusby, fired up the Suburban and moved it and the utility trailer that was still attached from its last use to the tunnel.

When he got back to the compound, he saw David and Dwayne getting the trench fire going for the day’s canning. He was both pleased and a little disappointed that Elizabeth wasn’t with them.

Neal, wearing the EMR pack, the BM-59 riding out of the way in the gun carrier of the Kifaru pack, he uncovered the game cart where he’d concealed it from casual view and walked down to join David and Dwayne for a moment. He handed David the sealed letter and said, “If things ever get really bad… serious… desperate, you know… open that up. It has useable information.”

“Going somewhere?” Dwayne asked softly.

“Yeah. Thought I’d go see how others are faring.”

“Want someone to go along? Wouldn’t take me but a…”

“Sorry Dwayne. This is a solo trip. But thanks. Oh. There is one thing you can do for me. There’s a propane tank with a wet leg. You can fill up the one-hundred pound tanks out of it.” Neal gave Dwayne specific directions on how to find the tank.

Neal turned away, without offering to shake hands. Both hands on the pull bar of the heavily loaded cart behind him, he walked away without another word. He didn’t see Elizabeth come out of the motor home, speak to David, and then run after him for several steps. He didn’t see her stop and look forlornly after him, and then turn back to the camp, a totally dejected look on her face.



Click here to read Chapter 4