A Collector Series Story
Charles W. Bird
Charles W. Bird
Copyright © 2014
Copyright © 2014
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely accidental. This story is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced by any means without the express, written permission of the author.
Prologue: Joel Barnett had always been a recluse, he found it hard to relate to others and was uncomfortable in a group. When he graduated from the University, he had invested his inheritance from his parents and multiplied it many times over. While his wealth grew, he became more and more uncomfortable around others and practically retreated into his own shell. At the young age of 35 years old, he felt he could no longer stand it and he cashed in all his "chips" and retreated to the mountain cabin his parents had left him. The cabin sat in the middle of a 1,000 acre plot of private land, surrounded by National Forest. It was hardly a cabin, it boasted of five bedrooms, and 6,000 square feet of living space. In addition, there were two bunkhouses that would sleep thirty ranch hands each. The nearest town, Forestville, was 75 miles away over roads nearly impassable. Three times a year, a commercial food service came and stocked his storeroom and Joel supplemented that with wild game he trapped or shot on his own property. The only people he saw was the food service people and an occasional Forest Service Ranger, who would pay him a courtesy call. His rare trips into Forestville were those he could not evade and the only person with whom he had any real contact was Millie Benson, the owner of Millie's Café and Rooms. He did have a radio and electricity, there was a small water turbine on the stream that supplied enough power for lights, the shortwave transceiver radio, a walk-in freezer and a small refrigerator. Some might have thought it would be lonely there, but for Joel, it was pure heaven.
The Food Service people were due that day, they had radioed him that they were expecting huge price increases in the near future and suggested he accept a triple order. He thought about it, he had the storage space to accommodate that much, so he agreed. About 10 am, four large trucks began the final climb to the "Aerie", he saw the Food Service Logo on the sides of the trucks through his binoculars, so he was not overly concerned. He didn't like the crew they brought, there were too many of them, but they were efficient and, in less than two hours, they had the trucks unloaded and everything stored in his storage rooms. They had already been paid, so they departed as soon as they had completed their tasks.
There were two teen boys in the work force, they looked with envy at the life they saw Joel leading. They were brothers, Danny and Bobby Bookman, they were on their own, having grown up without their father and now their mother had passed away too. They felt themselves lucky to have a job in these hard times.
The Food Service also collected Joel's mail and delivered it whenever they made a delivery. There wasn't much, a letter from his broker asking about some dividends and one from his attorney advising him that he had sold his parent's home and deposited the money in his account.
He left a stack of mail to read later as he listened to the shortwave radio for a bit, as usual, the news was depressing and full of "doom and gloom". He thought to himself, "To Hell with it" and went out to the barn to saddle his horse to take a ride up through the canyon to the high meadow.
The horse was a gift the local Indians had given him when he had first arrived. They were worried he would not let them use their ancestral hunting grounds, as they could only be accessed through Joel's property.
He told them as long as they did not bother him, they could pass through the Aerie anytime they wanted. In return, they gave him the horse and many times, he would find a new handmade blanket, or fur robe neatly folded on his porch. He never saw who left the items, but he used them in pleasure and he would leave gifts like a bag of salt, a box of ammunition or steel sewing needles on the railing. They might sit there for a few days, but they always disappeared.
His ride took him up through the canyon to the high country above his home, he always enjoyed the solitude and the quiet beauty of the high mountains. It seemed like he could look out and see forever.
He returned after dark and attended to the horse before going inside to fix his supper and finish reading his mail. He got down to the bottom of the pile and discovered a letter from his cousin Arabel. They had never been close, but they were the only living relatives of each other. She wrote that her husband, John, had been killed while serving in the Army and that she had breast cancer and expected to live only a few months. She wanted him to take her twin boys, Jacob and David, as he was her only relative.
He was not pleased, but he got on the transceiver and made a connection that would allow him to dial his cousin's telephone number. The phone rang several times and he was about to break the connection when an unfamiliar voice answered. It was a man, he identified himself as Robert Collins and was the attorney for the estate of Arabel Davis.
Joel Asked, "My cousin is dead, then?" The man replied, "Yes, she passed away yesterday, are you her cousin, Joel Richard Barnett?" Joel replied that he was and wanted to know about his cousin's two children. The attorney replied, "The boys, Jacob and David are 14 years old and my wife is keeping them for now. Your cousin wanted you to have custody, how do I bring them to you and sign over their custody?"
Joel explained that the nearest town was Forestville and that it was a three day trip for him to get there. The attorney looked at a calendar and replied, "Suppose I meet you on Wednesday of next week with the boys. Their estate is quite substantial, so it will be no financial hardship for you to keep them."
Joel was a little testy, "Their estate belongs to them, I have no need of their inheritance, invest it for their future!" He gave the attorney the name and telephone number of his own broker and told him to invest the boys' inheritance in conservative stocks or in gold bullion.
He had his own cache of gold bullion and silver coins secured in an underground vault hidden in the barn. It was well protected, even should the barn burn down, there was six feet of cement and dirt above the vault to protect it.
As Joel was sitting on the porch, with his afternoon cup of coffee, he spotted Running Bear, the chieftain of the local Indian Tribe and three of his braves crossing the field below him on their way to their hunting grounds and he waved to them as they proceeded on to their hunting grounds.
Joel didn't trust his old jeep, it hadn't even been started in over a year, so he was concerned about how to get the boys from Forestville, to the Aerie. He waved Running Bear to come up to the porch and offered the old man a cup of coffee, which he eagerly accepted.
He told the Chief of his dilemma and the old man replied, "Brother of my people, we shall gift your boys with two ponies, they shall be in your barn by this night." Joel thanked him and they both went about their business.
Joel never heard a sound, so he thought Running Bear had not yet delivered the ponies when he got up the next morning. He heard his own horse, Tall Rider, snorting, so he went to investigate, there were two ponies in stalls in the barn, along with halters, riding blankets, and saddles! Joel promised himself there would be gifts given to the tribe for this generous gesture.
THE BOYS ARRIVE
The appointed day the boys were to arrive came near all too quickly, Joel was not anxious to have two teenagers hung around his neck, but he would not turn the children of his cousin away, they were his only living relatives.
He saddled up the horses and tied the two ponies' halters to his saddle tags and started down the trail, it was 75 miles to Forestville, planning on taking three days to get there. The weather was fine and he found joy in the passing scenery, the wildlife paid him little attention as he passed, the colorful mountain birds and small animals had always interested him, he could name most of them and those he could not, he could make a good guess as to specie.
He spent two nights camping along the trail, he saw neither humans nor any sign of them, it was like he was alone on the planet. Early on the afternoon of the third day, he ambled into the tiny village of Forestville and tied up his horses at the local diner.
Millie Benson, one of the few people he could name as a friend, waved him over and asked him if he wanted a late lunch. He agreed and, as she was pouring him some coffee, she mentioned that a fancy town feller had been asking about him.
He told her about the boys and his cousin and that the man's name was Robert Collins. She told him they were all staying over at the Rathskill Lodge, she pronounced it as Rat Hill Lodge, making her feelings known for its owner, Billy Rathskill. William Rathskill was a local promoter from the County Seat and he was universally disliked by all who knew him.
After he had finished his meal, he walked over to the Lodge, leaving his horses at Millie's. The lodge manager, Simon Forte, was a little weasel of a man, with a personality like that of his employer, he had a sneer on his face as he told Joel that MISTER COLLINS was waiting for him in his room. He was in the "Presidential Suite"! Joel wondered if it had a new coat of paint since he stayed in it 10 years earlier when he had moved here.
When he got up to the room and knocked on the door, he heard movement inside, a blonde teen boy of about 14 years old answered the door. Joel asked, "David or Jacob?" The boy replied, "eeer er Jacob, sir." There was suddenly another boy, looked exactly like the first one, so he figured that had to be David. He said, ""I am your cousin Joel."
The attorney, came into the room, he was a tall thin man with a pleasant smile on his face, "Hi, I am Bob Collins, you must be Mr. Barnett." Joel replied, "Just Joel, I see so few folks, I sometimes forget I have a last name."
He looked around and remarked, "I see old Billy Rat Catcher hasn't sprung for any new paint since the last time I was in this room 10 years ago." Mr. Collins laughed, "He probably had the same boulders in the mattress' when you were here, also!"
They sat and talked and decided to leave the boy's baggage with Millie until he could get the old jeep started and come pick it up. He told the boys to pick out a few washable clothes that they could bundle behind their saddles and bring with them.
Both boys were wide eyed, "You mean we get to go to your house on horses?" Joel smiled at the boys, "It is your house now, also. You guys are gonna live with me, so you are gonna be part of my family. I never thought I would have kids, and here I got two almost half grown!"
Joel signed a bunch of papers that the attorney had for him and when it was all signed and sealed, Joel turned to the two boys, "Ya' wanna get out of this rat trap, I usually rent a room from Miz Millie over at the diner. It is cleaner and safer than this old rat pile."
Mr. Collins looked relieved that he was going to be able to get away from the worst hotel he had ever been in, the Hotel from Hell is what he thought of it."
The boys were a little hesitant and Joel knew what their problem was, "Guys, I know it has been hard on you both and I won't even try to tell you that the hard times are over with, but, if we all work together, maybe we can make this work. I have lived alone for so long, it is hard for me, too."
Both boys ran to him and locked him in their grasp, both were crying great racking sobs. He held the boys and told them to let it all out and they did, wetting his shirt and jeans. When their sobs finally slowed, he sat down with them on the lumpy couch and held them.
They asked him a few questions about what was going to happen to them and how they were going to be able to go to school. He told them about the state program of "School over the Air", it was done on the shortwave transceiver, and their tests were mailed once a month.
They talked until almost dark and Joel had to hurry them up to catch Miz Millie before she locked up for the night. There was no danger of that, she had held supper for them in the oven and she brought out a fresh peach pie with vanilla ice cream on it for dessert.
She told Joel she had freshened up the end unit, it had two bedrooms in it and the one next to it and that there were fresh towels in the cupboards. They walked down to the end unit and opened the door, at least the room was clean and neat and did not smell of old cigar smoke and mildew.
Joel shut the door behind them, one of the boys asked, "Aren't ya gonna lock the door?" Joel chuckled, "Bears don't know anything about locks, if they want in, they just smash the door down.
The two boys looked at the door kind of fearfully and held each others' hand as they went into the bedroom that had the two single beds in it. It had been a long trip and Joel was tired also, so he headed for the other bedroom and proceeded to get ready for bed. He was nearly asleep when two blond heads poked around the door, "uuuhh aa uh Sir, could we sleep with you tonight?"
Joel held the blankets up and they ran across the room and jumped in beside him. He asked, "Afraid of bears, huh?" Both boys had eyes as big as saucers, "Yes sir, bears are biggern' us!" They slept the whole night through, untroubled by bears or any other mountain critter.
By the time they had gotten up the next morning, the attorney had already checked out and departed. After they had a hearty breakfast in the Diner, they saddled up the horses and made ready to make their journey back to the Aerie.
The boys had ridden horses before, but never Indian ponies. Running Bear had provided them with western saddles but the ponies were unlike anything they had ever seen, let alone ridden before. They were trail wise and refused to go where it was not safe. They would circle around a ground squirrel nest and stop at the sound of a rattlesnake.
They spent two nights out under the stars of the high mountains. Both boy's appetites were like growly bears, everything that Joel cooked was devoured almost before it hit the boys' plates!
On their last night before reaching the Aerie, the boys were cuddled up against Joel in front of the campfire and Jacob asked, "Sir, eeer Mr. Joel can we call you Uncle Joel?"
By that time, the two boys had worked their way under the protective shell that Joel had built around himself and he hugged them saying, "Guys, if you want me to be your Uncle, then Uncle I am."
On the third day, they reached the Aerie, the boys were in awe of the lodge on the high end of the meadow and they raced their ponies up to the hitching posts in front of the porch. They jumped off their ponies and waited respectfully as Uncle Joel clambered of his horse and led them up on the porch.
Of course, the front door was not locked and he led them in to the huge downstairs room. The signal light on the transceiver was blinking, so Joel picked up the handset and hit the return button on the controls, it was the attorney, Mr. Collins, he reported that he had converted the boys' inheritance to Gold and Silver coin and it would be delivered to Joel within the next twelve days.
Joel was not concerned, if push came to shove, he could provide for the boys. They had already claimed his heart and he would do almost anything for them.
Everything was new and strange to the boys, but they had a lively curiosity and it was not long before they had explored every nook and cranny of the house and the out buildings.
Joel showed them how to saddle the ponies and made them promise not to go any further than the boundaries of the meadow, unless he was with them. He would sit on his porch with a cup of coffee and watch his two "nephews" race each other from one side to the other. They were getting pretty good at riding and they were enjoying themselves.
He saw that their clothes were taking a beating, so he figured he needed to do some work on the old jeep and get it running so they could collect the boy's belongings he had left with Miz Millie down in Forestville.
Since David and Jacob had come to him, he did not feel any of the old panic when he considered going to the village, maybe they were rubbing off on him.
Joel finished his coffee and walked over to the equipment shed where he had the jeep stored. He put the charger on the battery and checked the oil and water. He had drained the gasoline tank when he laid the jeep up, so he started the pump to pull up some fresh gasoline from the underground tank.
That done, he decided to fix some lunch for them all, while the battery was being charged. He walked up on the porch rattled the old metal triangle that was once used to call in the ranch hands. The boys must have realized it was near feeding time, they raced back to the barn and had the ponies unsaddled and out in the paddock before he could return to the kitchen to throw some sandwiches together.
It never ceased to amaze him just how much food growing boys could consume! They came racing into the kitchen, he just pointed at the washroom. They skidded to a stop and went to wash, before sitting to the table.
As they were eating, the alarm went off on the transceiver and Jacob was closest, so he answered it. Joel could hear their end of the conversation, "Yessir, I will tell him, Tuesday morning in Forestville. Yessir, he is right here, you wanna speak to him?" Evidently the caller did, because Jacob held out the handset for Joel.
The caller was the attorney, Robert Collins, and he told Joel that he had a load of gold and silver coins he wanted to get to them for the boys and it was important that he and Joel have a serious conversation as soon as possible. Joel confirmed their date for the next Tuesday morning to meet at Millie's Diner.
He told the boys it would be an all day trip, even in the jeep, so they would go down on Monday and spend the night. Depending on how long their business with Mr. Collins took, they would probably not return to the Aerie until Wednesday.
The boys had gotten interested in some old National Geographic magazines that had been there since before Joel had moved in, so while they were looking at the magazines, he went out to see if the jeep would start. It turned over a couple of times before the engine caught, running as rough as a cob until oil had reached all its parts. He let the engine run until it had heated up, then he drove it around the buildings a couple of times to make sure that everything was working properly. He then parked it in the garage until they had to leave for Forestville in a couple of days.
He returned to the house and decided to catch up on the news, he turned the transceiver to shortwave broadcast and found a station broadcasting the news in English. Evidently there was a financial crisis going on and some big banks were about to fail.
The biggest news was that the Mexican Government had collapsed and the reporter claimed anarchy had taken over their neighbor to the south. Joel didn't like what he heard on the newscast and decided to put in a call to his broker the first thing the next day He had the greater portion of his wealth in gold and silver that was safely stored under the barn, but we was concerned about his holding in stocks and government bonds.
There wasn't anything he could do about it until the next day, so there was no sense worrying about it now. He began preparations for supper, knowing his two hollow legs would soon be grumbling that they were being starved to death.
The boys volunteered to do the dishes after supper and they all decided to make an early night of it as it was going to be a hard trip down to Forestville over the next couple of days.
They got up early the next morning and Joel placed his call to his broker, he was not thrilled at the news he received and asked the broker to contact Robert Collins to deliver his holdings, converted to gold and silver coin.
They made their final preparations for the trip, as a last minute thought, Joel threw the .30-06 rifle in the jeep and strapped his Father's old .45 pistol to his waist. He put a couple of boxes of ammunition in the jeep where he could get at it in a hurry and they started off.
Both Jacob and David were a concerned when they saw the firearms, Jacob asked Joel if he was expecting some kind of trouble. Joel replied, "I dunno know, I just have an uneasy feeling, that's all."
The old jeep performed well, despite its age and they pulled into Forestville in the late afternoon of the same day. There seemed an unusual number of visitors in the small town that day, however, Millie had a room for them and she told Joel that Mr. Robert Collins and his son had reservation for the next day.
They unloaded the jeep and Joel took both boys over to the Mercantile to get them some new clothes. The Boys' trousers were both "high water" and their shirts were too small. He outfitted them in new boots and winter coats, as it was already late summer and winter would be closing in soon.
He figured with two active boys, he had better stock up in first aid supplies and things like aspirin and other remedies. He also purchased his gifts for Running Bear's people. As a last minute thought, he bought two Winchester lever action rifles and ammunition for the boys as they had asked him if they could go hunting that fall.
After they had stowed all their purchases in the room, they ambled over to the diner where they socialized with Millie for a while before having her beef pot roast supper.
After they had eaten, Millie brought the coffee pot over and poured a cup for Joel and herself. She sat down tiredly, her "worry lines" on her face were standing out. Joel asked what was her troubles and she replied, "Joel, there be bad times a'comin' an' I got my sister's two boys to worry about now. Ya' knows that Gloria died soon after her husband, Billy Bookman was killed."
Joel replied, "I had forgotten that, her two boys were up to my place helpin' delivery of my food order a couple of weeks ago."
Millie sat for a few minutes, Joel could see she was trying to work up enough courage to say something to him. Finally she said, "eeerr Mr. Barnett, sir, would you take my two nephews Danny and Bobby? Theys gonna be trouble soon and I wants them safe."
Joel though for a long minute, he knew both boys and he knew they were both good boys and hard workers. David and Jacob were looking at him and he could see concern in their faces too. Finally Joel replied, "OK, Millie. I'll do it, tell them to be ready to go Thursday morning." Millie was crying, "They'll be ready an' I will send some stuff that they's Daddy left fer 'em. A bag of gold and silver coins, I don' know how much theys be worth, but it be more than I can carry." They will have they's own horses and tack and as much clothing as theys got.
THE TROUBLES BEGIN
The next morning, Joel slipped over to the Mercantile and purchased two more rifles and a case of ammunition and several additional cases of assorted canned food. They had just finished lunch when Robert Collins and his son Jerry pulled in. They took the room next to Joel's and they all planned on meeting for supper at the Diner.
Mr. Collins came to their door carrying a large leather carrying case. It was the boys' gold and silver coins, their inheritance had been $830,000, after taxes, and he had converted it all to precious metal coins. He also had a heavy wooden box that he said Joel's broker had delivered to him. It was heavy and it took the two of them to carry it.
At supper, Mr. Collins introduced them to his son, Jerry and they had a pleasant meal. Millie had the radio on and they heard her scream, she turned the radio volume up and they heard, "THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA CAN NO LONGER GOVERN AND IS, THEREBY DISSOLVED. ALL FUNCTIONS HAVE CEASED AND THE BANKING INDUSTRY HAS COLLAPSED, BY ORDER OF THE US MARSHAL, ALL BANKS ARE CLOSED."
They sat there in stunned silence. Mr. Collins said, "Joel, can you take my son, Jerry with you. I must go back and try to save what I can, then I will come here and join you?" He opened his wallet and pulled out $5,000 in hundred dollar bills. He pushed then to Joel saying, "Purchase what Jerry needs and as much food as you can, I will join you as soon as possible."
Joel agreed, he liked Bob Collins and his son seemed to take after his Dad. Bob explained that the boy's Mother had run off years earlier and it was just the two of them.
The next morning, Bob Collins left at the crack of dawn and, as soon as they had eaten, Joel took the boys over to the Mercantile and bought more clothing and canned food. There was already a run on the store, many shelves were bare. Joel purchased two more rifles and several cases of ammunition, as well as knives and two pistols.
He decided it would be best if they departed immediately, Miz Millie got on the radio and called her two nephews and told them to get over to the Diner. Joel asked Mille, "Is there a need for you to stay behind?" She looked at Joel and replied,, "No, but I gots nowhere else to go." Joel told her to pack up, she was going with them.
The two Bookman boys, Danny and Bobby arrived on two horses and a pack mule. When they learned that Aunt Millie was going with them, Bobby went back and gathered up their remaining horses and another pack mule.
It was decided that Millie would ride in the jeep, along with Jerry as he was not yet horse savvy and David and Jacob would ride horses. Danny and Bobby had plenty of blankets with them; they could all sleep on the ground at night as they made their way back to the Aerie.
As soon as everyone was settled, they headed upmountain. Joel wanted to get out of town before any trouble began, there was already a crowd in front of the Mercantile, trying to shove their way in the doors. They were well on their way when they heard the sound of gunfire back in the town, Joel pressed on the gas pedal a bit harder, wanting to put as much distance between them and Forestville as possible.
They made good time, fear was a great incentive. They got as far as High Spring before it became too dark to drive, so they pulled off the road and made camp. After they had eaten a quick meal, Joel told the four older boys that they were going to have to stand watch during the night and he would take the first watch. He broke out the rifles and gave each of them a new Winchester rifle and a box of ammunition.
Jerry wanted to help, even though he was only twelve years old, his Dad had taught him and he had attended the Scouting program in Firearm Safety. Joel told the boy he could stand watch with him for now, until he felt comfortable in standing by himself.
The boy demonstrated that he was, indeed, trained, he carefully loaded his rifle and locked the safety before leaning the rifle against a tree next to his bedroll. As it got dark, the older boys and Millie bedded down, Joel and Jerry sat there, each watching a different direction until midnight, then Joel woke Jacob and David for the next shift. He told them to wake Danny and Bobby at 4 am.
They passed the night undisturbed and Danny woke them as it began to get light. Millie fixed a quick breakfast and they hit the road again, wanting to get back to the Aerie.
THE ORDEAL BEGINS
It was with considerable relief they spotted the roof tops of the house as they came over the last rise and dropped into the meadow. Everything looked normal and there was nobody around. Joel drove the jeep into the garage and they began to haul their purchases and belongings into the house. Danny and Bobby asked if they were to stay in the Bunkhouse, but Joel told them to take a bedroom in the main house.
They got settled and Joel tried to call Bob Collins, but he got no answer. At least the phone service was still working. He turned on the transceiver and set it for shortwave. He had to go through the dial twice before he found an English Language broadcast, the news was even worse than earlier, the announcer told of riots and fires in the big cities. There was no word of the government and the announcer said that all the banks had shut down.
He found a couple of Spanish speaking stations and Jerry said he spoke Spanish, so he let the boy translate. It was some madman claiming to be the Messiah and urging all his people to rise up against the Northern Gringos who had stolen their country from them.
Joel hoped they were far enough away from the southern border that they would not be faced with Mexican mobs intent on murder and mayhem.
He tried once more to connect with Bob Collins before shutting the radio down, but he wanted to hear no further horror of the breakup of their country.
Joel set the gifts for Running Bear's people out on the porch railing and the next morning they were gone. The days began to stretch out, every day they tried to contact Bob Collins with no success. Jerry was becoming fearful his Father might be dead, they had heard of terrible riots in the cities.
Joel set up a watch schedule, there was someone with a rifle sitting on the porch next to the iron triangle during the night. Two weeks passed, Jerry spent each night in tears, praying his Father was alive.
Shortly after lunch one day, Jacob was coming out the door to take his turn as watcher and spotted a large vehicle coming up the road. He dashed to the alarm triangle and started beating the living daylights out of it.
Everyone came running, their rifles in their hands. It was a huge Ford Excursion 4X4 with the roof rack fully loaded and they could see boxes filling the vehicle behind the front seat.
A grinning Bob Collins stepped from the huge SUV and waved his hat at them. Jerry flew down the front steps and raced to his Father, the boy could not speak coherently, his tears and sobs of relief flooded down his face.
When everything calmed down, Bob told his story, he had gotten back home ok, but the power was off and there was no telephone service. The SUV had been his neighbor's, both of them were on vacation in Mexico and never returned, so he appropriated their vehicle and managed to fill it with canned food.
Getting gasoline for the return trip had been "touch and go" but a 12 gauge shotgun helped in getting cooperation from gas station owners. Each time he filled the tank, he paid the station owner a gold coin, so they could not say that he had stolen the fuel. When the banks has closed, two days earlier, a dollar gold coin was going for $520!
He told Joel that he had 300 pounds of gold coins in a box under all the food and canned goods. That reminded Joel that he had not put David and Jacob's coins in the vault nor his own box, so he helped Bob carry his box and then went back for the boy's and his boxes of coins. He showed Bob how to access the vault and the combination. When Bob saw what was stored in the vault, he whistled and said, "Good God, Joel, you have more here than many whole country's have!"
Joel just smiled, "Maybe so, but we ARE going to come out of these troubles whole and be able to start over again. Who knows how long we are going to have to survive or how many folks are going to depend on us just to stay alive?"
That night, they all sat down and held a "Council of War". It was decided that they would hunt as much as possible to extend their stored food supply and that they would plant a large garden the next spring.
One of the boxes Joel had purchased was a large assortment of garden seeds. There was an old plow in the barn and the mules should be able to pull it. He noted that they were all GEN1 seeds, so their seeds would be fertile.
Danny and Bobby volunteered to cut a bunch of trees down so they could dry out for firewood and the twins, Jacob and David said they would cut up the logs as the two older boys felled them. Millie took over cooking duties and Jerry said he would do all the laundry and help Millie.
The days began to be shorter as the summer progressed into fall. Winter would come soon so Joel started up the walk-in freezer and they began hunting in earnest. They were all ammonia absorption units, so electricity was not required to make the work. Since there were no other hunters in the area that year, the freezer was soon filled with venison, both deer and elk.
The first snows fell and the outside temperature dropped, with the two woodstoves going, the house was warm and cheery. The water turbine was completely automated. It was a Cooper Industries machine and the stream ran all year. The water was slightly warm, probably from some ancient volcanic activity, so there was no danger of it freezing in the cold. It was sufficiently large to handle all their electric needs, even if the two bunkhouses were occupied.
When the cold weather forced them all inside, the watch station was moved to the top story, where there were windows in all directions.
There had been several good snow falls, the snow on the ground was about two feet deep when Jerry spotted a couple of dogs and some people struggling through the snow in the meadow. He rang the alarm and Joel came running up the stairs, followed by Jerry's father, Bob. Joel got the binoculars out and studied the struggling figures.
After a few minutes, he said, "They are boys and they are all in Boy Scout Uniforms!" They struggled into their heavy winter gear and Joel strapped on his pistol, just to be safe.
The party of Scouts was headed towards the house, when they came up on the porch, they saw a weary group of teens, their clothing was torn and in rags and they looked as if they had not had a good meal in a long time.
Their Patrol Leader said to Joel as he confronted them, "Sir, we escaped from a forced work party, we had been helping at a local school and these men came with guns and started forcing everyone into trucks. We escaped and ran, we have been running ever since. I think we lost them down on the paved highway, there had been a snow slide and they couldn't get their trucks through it. That was six days ago."
The young man looked ready to collapse and his Scouts were little better. The Patrol Leader had led 14 teens into the mountains to escape their captors.
They brought all the boys into the warm house and got them some warm soup and Millie had baked some fresh bread. She had made the soup from the remains of an elk roast they had several days earlier, it was filled with meat bits and vegetables and so thick, it was more like a stew.
When the boys had eaten their fill, they were shown where they could shower. Only a few had spare clothing, so they were wrapped in towels while their uniforms were being washed.
Joel and Bob discussed what to do with the teens, there were too many for the bedrooms in the house. They decided to offer them places in one of the bunkhouses.
They sat down with the Patrol Leader and made their offer, the boy could not hold back his tears, "I thought we were going to die out there, I had no idea you guys were here until I saw the smoke from your chimney. We have nothing to offer for our keep except our backs, we can work and help maintain this place. Will that be sufficient and let us stay here with you?"
Joel replied, "Son, we are all in this together, if your guys are willing to help, surely we are willing to have you. I would never turn you out in the cold." So it was that Jeremy Turner and his 14 Boy Scouts became part of the Aerie.
As soon as their clothing had been washed and dried, Joel showed them the underground walkway from the house to the bunkhouse and the boys "turned to" getting their new home squared away. They hauled wood to fuel the woodstove in the bunkhouse and they broke out the stored linens to make up beds for themselves.
The bunkhouse had ten 3 person rooms and toilet facilities. Joel told them they could use the showers in the main house, rather than start up another hot water heater to supply the showers in the bunkhouse.
That night for the first time in many nights, the Teen Scouts had a warm, dry bed, a roof over their heads, and they were safe with a full meal under their belts. Try as they might, Jeremy was comforting crying boys while his own tears were streaming down his face. They all resolved to do whatever it took to be allowed to stay at the Aerie.
THE AERIE BECOMES A COMMUNITY
The depth of the winter hit with a fury, storm after storm dropped snow on them and it was now piled as deep as the front porch. In order to leave the house, they had to go down to the underground tunnel and go out the downside door half way between the house and the bunkhouse.
Since the firewood had been stored next to the basement garage, there was really no need to go outside very often. They were snug and dry inside while the snow was man deep in the surrounding meadow.
Despite all that, they kept a regular watch from the upstairs room, the Scouts augmented the watchers, so one had a shift only every couple of days as there was no point in watching at night or during a snow storm.
It was just a couple of days after the New Year when Jeremy heard a pounding on the outside door of the tunnel. He slipped his clothes on and went to the door, carefully cracking it open lest something or someone unwanted tried to come in.
He found a near frozen old man, obviously an Indian standing there. As he opened the door, the old man stumbled and fell onto the tunnel floor. Jeremy screamed for Darby O'Toole, his Assistant Patrol Leader, "Go get Mr. Joel, QUICK!"
Darby did not wait to put his shoes on or his shirt, he ran through the tunnel and came up to the living room, where Joel and Bob were still up, enjoying the fire in the woodstove. He told them about the man and they followed him back through the tunnel.
Jeremy had brushed the snow off the man and was wrapping a warm blanket around him, clearly the old man was at the extreme limits of his endurance.
It was Chief Running Bear, they brought him some warm coco the scouts had made and held it to his lips. Finally, the old man stopped shaking enough he could speak, "Brother of my people, we have six boys of your folk, we rescued them from the snow and have no way to speak with them as only I speak your tongue."
Joel replied, "Brother Running Bear, come, let us warm you while we ready the horses and sleigh, we will return you to your village." By now, Jacob, David, Bobby and Danny were standing in the tunnel, Jerry was in the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee and Millie was heating some of the venison stew they had for supper.
They helped the old chieftain up the stairs to the main house and set him in front of the woodstove to warm up and dry out. Bobby and Danny took the tunnel to the barn and began hooking the horses to the sleigh. They loaded it with blankets and fed the horses an extra ration of grain.
When they came up to the kitchen, the old man was telling them that several of the boys had been hurt and one of them had a bullet wound in his shoulder.
Jeremy told Darby to get the "kit". He explained to Joel that it was a field medical kit and both he and Darby had qualified in its use.
They went over to the barn, Bob said he would drive the team, but Bobby told him that he had been driving horse teams all his life, so Bob handed him the reins and jumped into the back of the sleigh. To keep the load down, only Bob, Jeremy and Bobby, with the old chief as a passenger, climbed onboard the sleigh.
The horses somehow seemed to know there was trouble and headed out at a brisk pace towards the Indian Village. Chief Running Bear gave him directions as they wound around small streams and gullies.
When they arrived at the village, the Indians had the six boys wrapped in colorful blankets, which they insisted the boys keep. They helped the Old Chief off the sleigh and loaded the boys onboard.
The boys were frightened and were shaking in their fear, Jeremy found the boy who had been shot and he began working on him as they traveled back to the Aerie. The bullet had passed through the boy's arm and left a ragged wound. The Indians had cleaned the wound and had pressed some astringent leaves over the holes, stopping the bleeding. Jeremy decided to leave the bindings on the wound until they got home.
The boys were all tired, but, as Jeremy learned their story, he became grim faced and angry. He leaned over to Bobby, "There is trouble here, we need to get home fast!"
Bobby shook the reins and sped up the horses, making fast time arriving back at the tunnel door. Bob jumped down and opened the tunnel door, calling for help. Scouts came boiling out of the bunkhouse and the boys from the house came running, they carried the boys into the house and sat them down on the couches. It took three of them to carry the injured boy into the house.
As they were pulling the wet clothing off the boys, Joel saw that which he had hoped never to see, the first boy to have his shirt taken off had whip marks across his back! Millie saw the wounds also and she headed to the kitchen to bring warm water and soap. All the boys had been beaten and were so thin, their ribs could be counted beneath their clothing!
The Scouts began moving mattresses onto the floor in front of the wood stove and Millie and Joel started washing the boys' injuries. By the time they had completed their task, neither were dry eyed.
Jeremy and Darby worked patiently cleaning the gun-shot wounded boy's arm and dusted the wound with an anti-biotic powder before sewing the gaping wound closed. The boy had passed out from the pain, so they carried him up to the house and laid him in front of the woodstove in hopes he could warm up.
Joel was fuming angry, one of the boys they had just rescued said, "Sir, I guess I am the oldest here, I am Bill Fable and I am 17 years old. They made us haul rocks and wheel barrows of dirt to build their fort. If we slowed down, they beat us an' used whips. We just couldn't take it any longer and we slipped over the fence 'most a week ago an' we been on the run until the Indians found us."
He looked at Joel, tears were running down his face, "Sir, don' turn us out, we'll die out there, please sir." Joel went over to the boy, "Son, we are not gonna turn you out, you got a home here for as long as ya' need it. Where are you from and where did all this take place?"
The boy replied, "we's from all over the Central Valley, I be from Green City and theys buildin' theys fort in Loriston." Joel thought to himself, "My God, that is over 250 miles from here!"
The boys slowly recovered from their wounds, the boy who had been shot, Gavin Douglas, took longer to heal and a couple of the boys had wounds from having been beaten that had become infected, so they also took a little longer to heal.
By the time the icicles had started to drip, all the boys were healed up physically. They still whimpered in their sleep and looked over their shoulders as they walked around. A couple cringed at very loud noises, but they were getting better. Their bodies were filling out with good food and they were clean, even if their clothes were a bit tattered and worn.
Millie took Joel aside, "Mr. Joel, my old cabin be out of the way and hard to find, I gots material an' buttons n' stuff I bin savin' a lifetime. My old foot treadle Singer Sewing Machine is there also, could we goes down as soons as the road be clear an' collect all that stuff sos I kin make some decent clothes fer these boys?"
Joel thought about it and replied, "Millie, we can do that, but I'm gonna take my own army with me when we go!"
Joel decided to take the older boys with him and Millie, and he armed them all with rifles. Four teens crowded into the jeep with him and Millie and another four were on horseback. It would take them two or three days to get to Forestville, since they were limited by having to bring two pack mules with them.
The nights were still cool, the warm spring days were a happy change from the brutal winter just past. In view of what had taken place, there was no frolicking by the boys, they were all business and they kept their eyes peeled for any possible danger. None were likely to soon forget the awful condition the escaped boys were in when they had been rescued.
It took them two days and a part of the third to get to Forestville, there were still snow drifts in the shady areas that had to be negotiated. It was still cold at night and the watery runoff from the snowbanks would be frozen over until the morning sun hit them. The horses walked gingerly as they crossed the slippery ice patches.
They entered the small village to absolute dead silence. They first went to Millie's old home and loaded her Singer Sewing Machine and bags of buttons and old zippers into the back of the jeep, she had bundles of cloth and old army blankets that they packed on the mules.
They decided to take a tour through the village to see if there was anything worth collecting and hauling back to the Aerie with them. They found blankets and sheets in Millie's old Lodge and a trailer behind a neighbor's abandoned house. They fitted the trailer to the ball on the back of the jeep and started to load their prizes into the trailer.
The Mercantile had been emptied out and the doors smashed, so they didn't think anything would be left, however, they took a chance that there might be something the scavengers had missed and they carefully searched each building.
As they walked through the abandoned buildings Jeremy noticed that the back wall didn't match the outside wall. There was a 4 foot difference in the two walls. By pounding on the wall, they located a hidden door and they pried it open. Inside they found a treasure trove of canned goods, rifles and ammunition. They had to sort the canned goods, as some had been damaged by freezing, but they ended up nearly filling the trailer.
It was getting dark and the early spring cold had descended upon them, so they decided to spend the night in Millie's old lodge. After a hurried meal, they curled up on the beds and attempted to get some sleep. None could sleep that night, even with two armed teens on watch, none of them felt safe.
In the early hours of the morning, they were all awakened by a scream, it sounded like a young voice. Everyone was instantly awake and jumping into their clothing. With their rifles in their hands, they went searching for the source of the scream.
Joel went to the jeep and sounded the horn, then he shouted at the top of his voice, "WE ARE HERE AND WILL NOT HURT YOU, PLEASE COME OUT SO WE MAY HELP YOU AND ANYONE WHO IS WITH YOU! WE ARE FROM THE AERIE AND WE WILL PROTECT YOU!"
He then blasted the jeep's horn again and they waited. They spotted two older teen boys peeking from around the corner of a house, Joel and Jeremy walked slowly towards the boys, their empty hands held out so they could see they were not carrying weapons. The two boys responded, "We have children with us, please do not hurt them or us."
At that, all the boys from the Aerie placed their weapons in the jeep, except for two, who continued to stand guard. Joel and Jeremy got to the two teens, they were skinny and it was obvious they had not eaten right for a long time.
Both boys were crying as Jeremy and Joel held them, the older, Wilson Timmons, said between his sobs, "We have eleven children, boys and girls, hiding in that house over there, please, they need help!"
They led Joel and Jeremy to the house and opened the door, the air inside was fetid with sickness and wounds. The house had a wood cook stove and Jeremy had his Scouts break siding off a house and start firing up the cook stove.
They had one of Millie's big cooking pots and two Scouts hurried over to the stream and filled it with water. As soon as it was heated, they began cleaning up the children.
Millie opened cans of food and mixed together a hearty soup for everyone, there were bowls in the house and every starving child was given as much soup as she or he could eat.
Wilson told them they had been on the run for two weeks and were at the end of their string. They had not eaten in several days and they could go no further.
Joel offered them and all the children sanctuary at the Aerie and he and his friend, Carl Ross, hemmed and hawed, Wilson took Joel aside, "Sir, eeree ahh, uhm, Carl an' me are more than just friends, do you want us to leave the children with you and us just disappear?"
Joel was shocked, "Son, you saved these children's lives, why should you also not come with us?" The boy replied, "But sir, we are gay…." Joel cut him off, "Who th' Hell cares, get out there and eat your fill before Miz Millie starts pouring her soup down your throats. YOU ARE COMING WITH US, NO MORE EXCUSES!"
As soon as the children had eaten their fill, places were found for them in the jeep and trailer and the return trek began again.
Carl and Wilson rode on the hood of the jeep and Joel drove slow so they did not fall off. It took them three full days to make the return journey and in that time, both Wilson and Carl learned that they were fully accepted by the Aerie folks and nothing would be said about their relationship.
They had found a box of new hand held radios in the old Mercantile and Joel was anxious to try to charge them up, he had been concerned by the lack of communication while they were on their foraging trip and the extra rifles and ammunition were always welcome, as was the canned food.
They were all happy when the roof tops and smoking chimneys of the Aerie came into view, it had been a long and hard trip and they were all exhausted.
The Scouts organized the children and opened the second bunkhouse and before nightfall, all the children had been bathed and fed. As they were all falling asleep in clean, warm beds, Millie was plotting and planning on how she was going to sew clothing for "her kids"!