Copyright © 2015 by Eric Aune and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
The sound of a rooster crowing made for some grumbling people as they were awakened by its raucous call. There were a few groans from the older folks who were unaccustomed to sleeping on the ground. The hay had helped a little but they were still a bit stiff as they greeted the day. "Good morning." Several looked around and saw that Cal was standing there. "My Dad asked me to come in and make sure everyone was awake. Breakfast will be in about half an hour."
"Thanks, we'll get things cleaned up out here and be right in." Cal waved and walked off. Cole got everyone to start getting the bags and pads rolled up and reattached to their packs. They grabbed what they needed to clean up and made their way to the house. About the time everyone was done, breakfast was ready. There were plenty of pancakes and sausage, with juice, coffee or milk to drink. As they ate, Lloyd told them what they needed to do to get the truck ready for the trip. Some the group stayed behind to help clean up while most of the men and boys headed back out to the barn.
Lloyd drove his truck into the barn near the hay and they began to build their hiding spot. Once in place the hay was secured to the sides of the stake bed with rope. As they were working, the others who had helped with the breakfast cleanup joined them and made sure all the pack straps were secured. They loaded the packs into the center space. The group climbed into the truck and tried to get comfortable. Lloyd and his sons were standing by a few bales of hay to close the back off. Cole helped them get the hay in place closing the rear of the truck off. Once the hay was in place the stake rails were inserted in their sockets and the hay was secured to the back stakes. The final part was to put a large tarp over the top. Inside of the hay, the only light was what seeped in from around the tarp and from the wire mesh that separated the rear window of the truck cab and the bed of the truck. Once everything was ready, Lloyd and Cole said goodbye to Lloyd's two boys who had to get to school. They waved as their dad drove out of sight. Lloyd turned the truck toward town and to the highway.
Once in town the first thing that they saw was the Army truck in the parking lot of the town hall. There were soldiers standing guard in front of the town hall entrance and a few more out front. Lloyd and Cole exchanged looks. They were soon out of town and on their way. As he had done the day before, Cole made notations on his map as they drove, pinpointing landmarks and recording signs that pointed to any area of significance, like state parks or anything like that. It was another stretch that could be hiked through if necessary, being filled with farmland and wilderness. Lloyd shared with him what he knew of the area.
It wasn't long before they neared the town of Waverly. It was on the south side of the highway and Lloyd turned off the highway to make their way into Waverly. Before they reached the center of town, he turned into a neighborhood. He grinned at Cole. "I'd like to avoid any imperial entanglements." Cole looked at him funny. "Star Wars. Obi Wan says it to Han Solo in the cantina on Tattooine. Geez. What? Do you think just cuz I'm a farmer I don't know anything but farming. I saw the original Star Wars movies when they came out back in the 70's and early 80's, when I was a kid." He chuckled as he continued driving. "I figure there are more of those soldiers near the center of town and I want to avoid them. I'll go through these neighborhood roads until I meet up with the main road south of town. It'll take us a little longer but there won't be too many prying eyes out here, away from the main road in town." Cole nodded and continued with his notations.
After leaving town, they drove the back roads for quite some time, seeing nothing but wilderness and farmland, until they came to a more built up area. The sign said Hurricane Mills. Lloyd pointed out that this was where Loretta Lynn lived. The whole area was all about Loretta Lynn. However, there were not a lot of tourists right now as they drove through the small town.
They continued with the same mix of farms and wilderness and continued to make their way along the back roads. They soon found themselves crossing the Duck River, and looped south, before turning back north to the town of Bakerville. Past that they went over a ridge and they could see the Tennessee River ahead of them. They turned south and paralleled the river for a short while before turning back east and then up a dirt road that climbed to a ridge to where they could see several buildings. Lloyd kept driving until he came to the end of the road, where there was a big house.
As they pulled up an older gray haired man came out of the house, smoking a pipe and stood on the porch leaning against a post watching them pull up. Lloyd and Cole got out of the truck and walked up to the man.
"Hi. I'm Lloyd and this here's Cole. I hope you were expecting us." The man nodded "Maybe." He looked at the two of them like he was waiting for something. They looked back at him and wondered what was going on, and then Cole finally remembered. "Sorry, we're looking for a woman named Moses." The older man smiled and looked at the truck behind them. "I thought there were more of you."
"Yes sir, the others are hidden in the back." The man looked at Cole and gestured at the truck with his pipe. "Well I expect you should get them out of there and come on in. It's about lunch time." He turned around and went back inside the house. Cole and Lloyd exchanged looks and shrugged. They went to the truck and began working on getting the hay out of the way and letting everyone out.
Everyone was glad to get out of the back. It had been a bit stifling in there under the tarp and closed in by the hay bales. Once everyone had their packs out of the truck, they helped Lloyd rearrange the hay bales and stacked them in the front part of the truck bed before covering them with the tarp. Cole had them bring their packs and made a pack line in the front of the house before he went up to the door and knocked on the screen.
A different man came to the door and let them in. "Please enter." That man's English accent was a surprise to them as he stood there and held the door open for them. "Mister Morgan awaits you on the back patio where lunch will be served. Please go straight through." They went in the direction that the man pointed.
They found themselves in the back of the large house and overlooking a pool. On the patio nearby was the man who had greeted them when they pulled up. He looked at them and gestured at the tables that were set out with several platters of bread, cheese, cold cuts and condiments. There was a cooler on the ground with drinks in it near one of the tables.
"Please help yourself. My name is Christian Morgan. Welcome to my home." He looked behind them to the man who had opened the door. "Thomas, can you see to having their luggage taken to their rooms for the night?" The man nodded and started to turn away. Cole looked back and forth between the two men. "Sir, we can take care of our own packs. There's no need to have him do that." Christian looked at the teen and nodded. "Very well. Thomas, after lunch you can show them where they can put their luggage." Thomas nodded. "Very good sir."
Christian smiled at them and waved his hand toward the food. "Please, I'm sure you're hungry and thirsty after your journey." Lloyd turned to Cole and held out his hand to shake. "Cole, it was fine meeting you, but I need to be getting home. You folks take care and good luck." Everyone said goodbye to him and shook his hand. Once Lloyd was gone, they turned their attention to the lunch that was set before them.
The group spread around the patio and the pool area as they ate. The adults sat with Christian and talked. He told them about how he had invested early in computer companies and had done very well. Because of how well he had done, he had been able to retire five years ago. This house was one of the houses that he owned around the country. He had been here when the election and its aftermath happened. He found that he could not get back to his main home in Connecticut unless he wanted to drive, because of martial law. So he decided to wait here until the flying restrictions were lifted.
Thomas came out to check on them and with him was a well-built man. Christian asked him to have the rest of the staff come outside so that he could introduce them. A man and woman joined them and Christian began the introductions.
"You of course have met Thomas. He is for want of a better word my personal assistant, sort of a cross between a butler, valet and executive assistant. He keeps track of my schedule when necessary and makes sure everything is running smoothly. This is his partner Gerald. Gerald works as my driver and bodyguard, when necessary. Harvey and Kirsten are the caretakers of this property. When I am in residence, she oversees the cooking and cleaning of the house and Harvey maintains the grounds."
Cole looked around and he began the introductions of their group. When he finished with the introductions, Christian looked at the teen. "So as I understand, you are the leader of this group. I would say that I am surprised one of the adults is not leading this group." Barry spoke up. "Mister Morgan. The reason Cole is in charge is that this whole thing was his idea after he found out what was going on. I have been around him for the last couple of years and he has always shown great leadership, so we have let him run with it." The adults in the group gave their agreement with that assessment, causing Cole to turn a little red in embarrassment, at the praise. Christian looked at the teen for a few moments before speaking.
"I'm pleased that a young person is showing such promise. I haven't heard much about these things that are going on other than the imposition of martial law. It wasn't until someone contacted Harvey by radio, and told him a little about this expedition of yours. I would like to hear more about what caused you to feel the need to come this way."
"I can show you sir, if you have a laptop or something like that."
"Well yes of course I do, but I doubt that you can get much information as we have no internet connection at the moment. It's not working." Cole shook his head. "No sir, I have the information on a couple of jump drives that I can show you." Christian nodded and looked at Thomas. "Thomas would you be so good as to get the laptop from my study?" Thomas turned and went back inside the house returning moments later with the laptop. He set it down in front of Christian and turned it on. Meanwhile Cole excused himself and went back out front, where their packs were sitting. He retrieved the bag with the jump drives in it.
When he came back in, he plugged them in one at a time and downloaded the information into a file that he made on the computer. "Sir, I put them in a folder called UR." Christian nodded and waved for his staff members to come over so that they could see what was on the computer. Cole pointed out the files and told him which order to look at them. The five adults crowded around the computer screen to see and hear what was being shown. There was shock as they saw everything that had happened. Christian had also skimmed through some of the evidence files of Ashwood's plans as well.
When he finished he looked at them. "There's more that's not on those files." He went on to explain about what Cooper had overheard.
"That makes sense as to why you thought this trip was necessary. Do you think that there will be other groups like yours coming this way." Cole shook his head. "I don't know, maybe. When the idea first came to me, I was mostly thinking about me, my brother and our friends, but once the others get back home, they will be able to help anyone else who needs to escape from Ashwood's supporters. I've been making notes on my map so that the Scouts will be able to guide any others that need to make their way to safety. You'll probably be seeing some of them coming back this way in a week or so on their way home."
Christian looked at Cole for a few moments. "You said them, not you. So, I take it you will not be coming back this way?" Cole shook his head. "No sir, neither my brother nor I will be going back. Our parents, as you have heard, would not be very happy with us."
"I thought not. Well I do admire your pluck young man. You and your Scouts. I wish you luck. If you are done with lunch, then Thomas can show you to your rooms for the night. When you're settled, feel free to make yourself at home." Everyone thanked him and went back out front to get their packs.
Thomas showed them the rooms that were available. He explained that the house had ten bedrooms total. There were just enough rooms for everyone if they shared rooms. Amy was able to have her own room. Nick once again went with the two youngest Scouts.
Once they had their packs in their rooms, they spread out a bit. Most of the younger Scouts walked around the property. There were a few buildings on the property. The majority were locked. Those that weren't locked were storage buildings with tools, supplies and equipment that were used for the upkeep of the property. One of the buildings was a garage that had a couple of ATV's in them and a large powerful looking Ford F550 truck. The thing was huge, and in the back it had a trailer hitch like those on an eighteen wheeler. They wondered why Mister Morgan needed such a large truck. There was a Cadillac Escalade in there as well.
While the kids were exploring, the adults relaxed on the back patio. Christian had Thomas bring some beer out to the patio and they sat and talked. While the boys explored, Amy joined Cole for a little stroll around the property. They both had gone to the same high school and knew each other, but hadn't really talked much. As they strolled, they talked about school, friends, movies, etc. It was nice for both of them to feel normal for want of a better word, amid all that was going on. By the time they made it back to the house, she had her arm around his and they were smiling and laughing with each other.
Dinner that evening was excellent and after dinner the kids were shown to a room where they could choose from a large library of DVDs to watch. It took some time to decide what they wanted to watch but then finally chose one and sat down to enjoy it. They were surprised when a few minutes later, Kirsten and Harvey came into the room with several bowls of popcorn and a variety of drinks for them to choose from. They thanked them and turned back to watching the movie.
The adults gathered in the living room and enjoyed some after dinner drinks and pleasant conversation with Christian. Thomas manned the bar and made drinks to order from the extensive stock that Christian had on hand. Gerald went to the wine cellar and grabbed a couple of bottles of wine at Christian's request. It turned out to be a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.
They talked about their plans once they had made it across the Mississippi to safety. Or rather lack of plans. They didn't know what awaited them there. They just knew they needed to get there to be safe from Ashwood's policies. As they talked Christian called to Thomas to join them.
"Thomas. I was thinking that with all of this going on, perhaps you and Gerald should join them." Thomas looked shocked. "Beg your pardon sir, but certainly not. We will not leave you alone. We have no intention of abandoning you for any reason, sir. Even if you discharge us, we will stay to help you. We are fine right where we are. You would have to call Ashwood to have us removed before we would remove ourselves." Christian smiled at him and brought his hand up in surrender. "Of course Thomas, thank you. I thought that would be your answer, but I felt that I should make the suggestion." Thomas nodded and went back over to the bar.
After the movie was over, most of the kids went back up to their rooms while Cole and Danny came into the living room to talk with Barry and make sure all the maps that the three of them carried had the same notes on them. Barry had to go up to the room he was sharing with Patrick to get his map. Christian had Thomas direct them to his study where they could have their meeting. When they finished, they rejoined the adults for a few minutes before Danny and Cole said goodnight and headed up to bed. The adults lingered for a short time before they also sought their beds.
Once everyone was settled in, Gerald and Thomas made their rounds of the house and grounds and they too sought their own bed.
Back in Belle Meade, Wayne went to talk with Reverend Campbell.
"Doctor Campbell, I wanted to ask you for advice."
"Of course, I always have advice for someone such as you. What can I do for you?"
"Well our boys seem to have disappeared." Campbell frowned. "Disappeared you say. You have no idea where they are?" Wayne shook his head. "No. They left us a note on Saturday that they were going to their grandparents. When they didn't come home on Saturday night, we believed that they were staying at their grandparents. They didn't come home on Sunday night either."
"Yes I had wondered why I didn't see them at church with you on Sunday." Wayne nodded and continued. "When they stay at their grandparents, they usually go to Sunday church with them, so it didn't concern us until they didn't come home by that evening. We were of course concerned, but thought that perhaps they had just stayed there and would be home after school on Monday. I would have called my parents but with the phones not working, there was no way for me to do so. I didn't believe it was enough of an emergency that I should take advantage of the pass you gave me to be outside after curfew. So I decided to wait until Monday morning to drive over there to check with them."
"Sensible idea. I knew that you were my kind of person when we met." Campbell smiled and nodded for him to go on. "On Monday I drove over to their house and when I asked them about the boys, they said that they hadn't seen them since Saturday morning. My father told me they had stopped by for a little while before leaving. He assumed they were heading back home. I checked the school and they had not shown up. I also checked with their Scoutmaster about any Scout activity that they might have had this last weekend, but he said there was none. I would like to add that the man seems to have a decent head on his shoulders. He told me that until this crisis is resolved he has suspended any Scout activities."
"Hmmm. Yes I can see why you would be concerned. You have no idea where they could be?" Wayne shook his head. "Well, I will see if anyone has seen them and let you know." They shook hands. "Thanks Reverend, I knew we could count on your help." Campbell clapped him on the back as he walked him to the door of his office. "Don't worry Wayne. We'll find them and make sure that they are safe."
Early the next morning, Thomas went around waking everyone and giving them time to get ready for the day. When they arrived in the dining room, they saw that there were platters filled with bacon, eggs, pancakes and choice of drink on the table. It looked and smelled wonderful and before long the only sound was the clink of utensils and quiet conversation. After breakfast, Cole asked everyone to get their packs ready. They had a long way to go before they got to the next station.
"What? You believed you were walking to your next stop? No, not at all. Well, I suppose you will need to walk part of the way, but we will take care of the first part. Get your packs and meet us out front. Thomas, can you and Gerald get everything ready?" Thomas nodded. "Of course sir." Thomas left the room to find Gerald. The others headed back to the rooms that they had stayed in, and got everything packed and ready for the day. They all assumed that they would be getting another truck ride to the next place.
They all met Christian downstairs. He was wearing a thick coat, and had on a small dark billed cap. It had some dark blue braid on the brim and around the edges of the hat. He smiled when he saw them and led the way outside. They gathered in front of the house and saw that the huge truck was backed partially into one of the storage buildings that had been locked the day before. They saw it pull forward and attached to the truck was a trailer carrying a large cabin cruiser. They watched as Gerald pulled it out of the building, guided by Thomas. Once it was outside, Christian smiled at them.
"I thought we might take a little cruise on the Tennessee River. We can get you close to your next stop and you will only have to hike a short distance to get there." He started walking to the boat. "What I thought we could do is that most of you can hide below in the cabin of the boat. Once we're on the water, you come out on deck and we can have a nice leisurely cruise down the river to somewhere near your next stop."
Everyone was smiling. The thought of cruising on the river sounded enticing. With Thomas and Gerald's help, they began climbing up into the boat. All the packs were stowed toward the bow and the rest of them got as comfortable as they could in the cabin below decks. It was pretty cramped, but they made do. Cole joined Christian, Thomas and Gerald in the truck. Thomas and Gerald sat in the front seat with Christian and Cole in the back seat.
Back on the road, they headed south, the Tennessee River to the west of them. Cole once again had his map out as they drove, making notes. Before too long they pulled into Cuba Landing. Thomas, Christian and Cole got out near the boat ramp. Gerald drove the trailer over to the ramp, and turned around to back down the ramp and into the water. Just before it went into the water, Thomas climbed up into the boat while Christian and Cole went to the office so that Christian could arrange for the gas tank to be topped off before they left. In the office he greeted the people in there like they were old friends. He obviously came here quite a bit and seemed to be well known.
Cole stood nearby, not sure what to do as he watched Christian talk to the man behind the counter. Gerald entered the office and tapped Christian on the shoulder. He nodded and Gerald motioned for Cole to follow him. They went out to the dock and Cole watched as Thomas brought the boat alongside the fuel dock. Gerald tied him off and the attendant began to fill the tank up. He talked with Gerald and Thomas as the tank filled. Cole jumped a little when a hand gently touched his shoulder. He glanced behind him and saw that Christian had come up behind him.
Christian smiled. "Sorry to startle you Cole."
"That's alright sir. I just didn't hear you come up behind me."
"Well it appears that we are ready to go. Let's go aboard." Christian walked over to the attendant and paid for the gas, while Gerald untied the boat. After paying the attendant, Christian took Cole by the elbow and the two of them boarded the boat. Gerald threw the rope up to Thomas and climbed aboard. With the rope stored, Thomas started the engine and pulled away from the dock.
They climbed up to the flying bridge and watched Thomas as he maneuvered from the marina, to the channel that led out to the river. Thomas turned south and opened up the throttle a little bit. Just a little south of the marina, the I-40 bridge crossed the river. Something caught Cole's attention. "Look on the bridge." As he started to bring his arm up to point, Gerald gently stopped him and shook his head. "I saw. Don't bring attention to us." Cole looked at him and nodded. "Sorry."
They looked at the bridge and crossing over it was a line of military vehicles heading west, including trucks and Humvees. They could also see soldiers standing on the sides of the bridge. The reason Gerald had stopped Cole was because several of these soldiers were looking at them as they passed underneath. The four people on the flying bridge kept their eyes on the river ahead of them. Once they had gotten past, Christian and Cole climbed down from the bridge. "Why don't you tell your friends that they can come on deck now? It won't take long, even at this leisurely pace, to get to our destination."
Cole went below and moments later the others followed him up from below decks. They sat around the deck and relaxed in the cool breeze as they cruised south. To make it appear merely a pleasure cruise, Thomas kept the speed of the boat down, so that they were moving slowly along the river to give their passengers a nice relaxing cruise. Nick asked to go up on the flying bridge and smiled when Christian said that he could. He and Michael both went up there and Thomas allowed each of them to drive the boat for a short time, to their delight.
The sound of the boat's engine slowing down alerted them to a change. They looked ahead as the boat made its way over to the western side of the river. They watched as a channel appeared in the western bank of the river. Thomas went a little past the opening before turning back north to match the angle of the channel. Once through the opening they had to navigate around a small island and then beyond that they entered a larger bay-like area. Thomas headed deeper into the area. They passed a boat ramp and small parking lot that was empty of any trucks or boats as they headed further into the bay.
Thomas went as far as he could and shut down the engine. Gerald threw out the anchor as Thomas joined everyone on the main deck. "I've brought us in as far as I can. If you look ahead of us, you'll see it gets pretty shallow, except for that twisting channel that is a little deeper. I might be able to bring the boat in there, but getting out would not be fun and I don't want us to scrape the bottom, so we will put you ashore here."
Everyone looked at the shore a short distance away. "We won't have to swim will we?" Christian chuckled. "No Miz Tuttle. Gerald is getting the rubber dinghy ready for use. You should be dry when you get to shore. If some of you could assist him, that will make this all run smoother. In the meantime, you should get your packs up here and ready to go."
Cole and a couple of the adults went to the bow where Gerald was inflating the dinghy. That done, they helped him get it over the side and into the water. The dinghy was pulled by a rope around to the stern, where there was a ramp off the back of the boat that was reached by pushing open a gate. Gerald secured the dinghy and went forward again. He walked back moments later carrying a small outboard motor which he attached to the back of the dinghy. It could only hold three people. One to run the motor and two people with packs. It took several trips to get everyone the hundred yards to shore. Christian wished each of them good luck as they left the boat. Cole was one of the last to leave. He shook hands with Thomas and Christian.
"Thank you sir, for everything."
"Think nothing of it my boy. Cole, let us know how you are getting on when you are able. I am very impressed with you. You've shown excellent leadership. After all this is over, if you decide that you wish to go into the business field in some way, please contact me. I would be happy to have you work in one of my companies. I would also be happy to write a letter of recommendation to any university on your behalf. And when you finish your schooling, I can easily find a position for someone with your kind of drive."
"I, I don't know what to say sir. Thank you. I haven't really decided quite yet what I'd like to do, but if I decide on business or something like that , I'll let you know. I'm sure it would help." Christian smiled at him and turned Cole to face the shore. "You can see through the trees just a little ways up from where we are dropping you off is a dirt road that should lead to your next destination.
Cole pulled his map out of his pocket and the three of them looked at it. Thomas pointed out on the map where they were and Cole could easily see the dirt road that Christian had spoken about. Cole traced a line with his finger to their next stop. He believed it would be less than two hours of hiking and they would be there. He thanked them once again as he got into the boat with Gerald.
"I will have Harvey contact the others back down the line to tell them that you have gotten this far safely, when I get back home." Christian told him. Cole nodded and turned around to face the bow of the dinghy as Gerald headed for shore. He was put ashore and Gerald shook his hand. "Good luck kid."
Cole watched Gerald maneuver back to the boat. While Thomas held the dinghy, he removed the outboard motor and put in the stern. Then he and Thomas got the dinghy pulled up and secured to the stern shelf on the back of the boat. Thomas climbed back up to the flying bridge and started the engine. Cole and the rest waved as the boat headed back to the main channel of the river to make its way back home.
Once the boat was out of sight, Cole turned and had everyone put their packs on and belted up before leading them away from the shore and up to the road. Once on the road they started walking west.
At the edge of the trees at the west end of the bay, three young men watched what was happening. Their resemblance made it obvious that they were brothers or at least related in some way. They were not necessarily clean nor particularly dirty. They did clean up from time to time, at least once a week anyway. They all had sort of scraggly whiskers, although the youngest one's 'beard' was very patchy. Their brown hair was worn long and looked stringy. In their hands they carried guns, the two older ones with rifles, the youngest with a shotgun. They'd been out doing what they did best, hunting. The youngest one, Haywood, had a rope with a couple of dead rabbits and a raccoon slung over his shoulder. The other two were Alvin, the oldest, and Ernie, the middle brother.
Haywood turned to the other two. "What d'ya figger that was all about?" Alvin shrugged. "Don't rightly know, but I'd like to find out. Let's foller 'em and see where they's end up." The other two nodded in agreement with the older one. Alvin looked at the other two. "You boys know how to keep quiet, so watch where ya step, so you don't alert 'em. C'mon." He turned, and headed deeper into the woods, away from the shore, with the two younger men following behind him.
Cole and his group walked along the dirt road until it joined with an asphalt road. Before continuing onto the asphalt road, Cole stopped them and checked the road out. Once he saw that there was no traffic on the road, he joined the others and pulled his map out for a few moments before continuing to lead them west. On the road he led them into the edge of the tree line on the south side of the road, so that they could easily drop out of sight if they heard any vehicles coming.
Near enough to see them, but well hidden, were the three brothers who were stalking the group as they hiked west. Cole continued to lead the group within sight of the road. They saw a dirt road that looked like the entrance of someone's property across from them, because there was a mailbox near the road. They crossed another dirt road on their side of the asphalt and stopped for a moment for Cole to check his map. When he was finished looking at the map, he turned away from the asphalt road and led them farther into the trees.
Alvin and his brothers froze when they saw the group turn toward them. He waved his brothers back a bit and they moved backwards and went still. They watched as the group moved away from the road and then went deeper into the woods. They waited until they were ahead of them, and then Alvin waved for them to follow him.
Cole stopped them at the edge of a large field. Two or three hundred yards away was a large metal roofed barn. Cole checked his map again and then led them around the edge of the field and then in the direction of the barn. As they neared the barn, they could see a farmhouse off to one side of the property. Cole stopped them.
"Is this the place Cole?" He looked at Danny. "I think so." He began to unstrap his backpack. "I'm going to check it out. If it's the place, I'll come get the rest of you." Danny nodded and took Cole's pack. Cole started for the house, but stopped when he heard an engine start up. They looked toward the barn and saw a tractor come around the other side of the barn. A man was driving it around the barn to where a rotary tiller was sitting. He stopped in front of it and climbed down to go and hook up the tiller. Cole held his hand out to the others and started toward the farmer. The farmer noticed the movement from the woods and stood up where he had been leaning down to hook the tiller to the back of the tractor. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his hands as he watched the teen walk toward him.
"Can I help you young man?" Cole stopped ten feet away. "I hope so sir. I'm looking for a woman called Moses." The man laughed and stepped forward with his hand out. "I reckon that's me." Cole let out the breath he had been holding. "Thank you sir." The man glanced around. "Are the others in the trees?" Cole nodded and waved for the others to come out. The group came out of the trees, Danny carrying Cole's pack, to join them. Danny handed Cole his pack when he reached them.
"Well it's good to see y'all made it this far. Follow me and I'll show you where to put your packs." They followed him into the barn. He led them to a ladder that led up into the loft above. "Y'all can make yourself comfortable up there. With the hay and all you should be able to be okay for the night. Once you're settled, I'll take you up to the house to meet the missus." The group took their packs off. Then the men and two older teens arranged themselves like a bucket brigade to pass the packs up. Once everyone's pack was up there, they came back down and followed the farmer from the barn to the back door of the house. A lady came out and smiled at them. "You must be the guests that we were expecting."
"Yes Ma'am. I'm Cole." He proceeded to introduce the group to her and her husband. They introduced themselves as Hank and Emily Jennings. They told them, they had a daughter, Erin and two sons, Randy and Bobby. They were all at school right now. "Well, the field still needs tilling, so I best get to it." He turned to go, but Nick spoke up. "Mister Jennings sir." Hank stopped and turned around. "I've never ridden in a tractor. Could I ride with you? I've always wanted to ride on a tractor." Hank looked at Nick and nodded. "Sure son, if your parents say it's okay. There's a jump seat in the cab that you can use." Nick looked at his parents. "Can I?" His dad nodded his head and Nick smiled his thanks. The two headed back outside to where the tractor was waiting. Emily offered drinks which they gratefully accepted. The younger guys took their drinks outside to look around while the adults stayed inside.
In the woods, the three brothers had watched everything that went on from when the teenager went out to talk to Hank Jennings, to when they came back outside of the house. They wondered what was in those packs that they had carried into the barn and left in there. Maybe they had valuables in them. They wanted to go into the barn and check them out but with all the kids outside wandering around it wasn't worth it. Maybe they could come back later tonight and sneak into the barn to search them. Alvin gestured for his brothers to follow him and they moved farther away from the farm so that they could make some plans.
When they have moved far enough away, Alvin stopped them and hunkered down. "I been thinkin' that if'n we wait til tonight, mebbe we can sneak into the barn and see what they gots in them packs. Somethin' seems strange bout all this. Them kids ain't in school, and why'er they out here hikin' during the week, Ain't they got to be in school? Mebbe we kin find out when we check out them packs. Firs' thing is we'll go find us a place to camp fer the night. Once't it's dark, we'll sneak inta the barn and check out them packs." His brothers smiled and nodded as they followed Alvin farther into the trees to look for a camping spot.
The group spent the afternoon lazing around. Cole sat down with Barry and Danny, so that they could make sure their maps were once again matched. They looked over the map to find the best route to the next stop. Mid-afternoon, the Jennings kids came home from school and were surprised to see all these people there. Their mom introduced them to everyone.
"This is our daughter Erin and sons Randy and Bobby." Erin was the oldest at sixteen. Randy was fifteen and Bobby was eleven. Cole introduced his group to the three kids.
The Jennings kids excused themselves to change and get their afternoon chores done. The teens asked if they could help because they didn't have much to do right now and helping with the chores seemed like the right thing to do to thank the family for the help. The Jennings kids thanked them and once they had changed, they led the teens around the farm to do chores.
There were two barns on the property. One was part storage shed, part workshop and garage, while the other had animals, cows, chickens, and hogs in it. The teens, including Amy, went with the Jennings kids and helped check the garden for any ripe vegetables, feed the animals, and clean the stalls. Because of the extra hands, it didn't take long to get all the chores done. They still had enough light to kick a soccer ball around. Just as the sun was going down, they saw Hank coming back with Nick beside him. Nick had a big smile on his face. "Cole, Cole. I got to drive the tractor for a little while. Mister Jennings let me sit in front of him and drive it. It was cool." Cole smiled at the excited boy. "That's sounds like fun Nick."
Emily came out and told everyone to get cleaned up for dinner. They all took turns washing after working and playing outside. Dinner was fried chicken and mashed potatoes. A few of the adults had helped prepare the food since there were so many mouths to feed. During dinner Hank asked them about why they were doing this and Cole explained what he knew. They didn't ask for any proof, they accepted what he told them at face value.
After dinner the Jennings kids pulled out some board games and they played while the adults talked. Cole brought his map out and he, Barry and Hank sat at the dining room table so that they could ask Hank for advice on the next leg of the journey. They noted that it was about thirty miles to the next stop. Hank was shaking his head.
"That won't do. It'll take you three or four days to get to the next stop. Tell you what, I'll give you a ride to the next stop. We got us a trailer that we haul cattle in. It's probably a bit ripe in there, but we can clean it out a bit. I can section the trailer off. We'll put you folks in the front part and load some of the cattle in the back half of the trailer. We can probably spread some hay on the floor of the trailer, to make it a bit more comfortable for the ride. There's air holes on the sides, so you'll have some fresh air in there. It still won't be very pleasant, but at least I can get you closer to your goal."
Cole exchanged a glance with Barry and looked at Hank. "We don't want to put you to too much trouble sir. We can hike it, even if it takes us a bit longer." Hank pointed at the map. "I don't doubt what you're saying, but there's a lot of ridges you're going to have to climb and you don't know the land around here, so you may have to backtrack from time to time, when you find a trail that ain't going the right way. I'm just saying, I think y'all would prefer not to be camping overnight in the woods. Not that you don't have the skills, but it does get a mite cold out there at night. I think that since you've been able to get rides much of the time so far, it's best for y'all."
Cole found himself nodding in agreement. He knew that with people like the Tuttles it would be better if they didn't have to hike too far. They were doing okay, but except for the first day, they hadn't had to do much hiking. If they had to spend several days in the wilderness, they may slow them down. He looked at the map and said nothing as he looked at the ground over which they would have to travel. He looked up at Hank.
"I think you're right. Those of us who are Scouts would probably make it easy enough. It will still be a bit cold at night. Part of the problem is that we have people who have never done anything like this. For them it would be hard and they would slow us down some. So if you think it will work, we'll take your offer. We can help you get the trailer cleaned up so that it isn't too bad to ride in." Hank smiled. "Okay, with that in mind let's see what road we'll take to get to the next stop.
For the next hour they poured over the map. Cole told him about seeing the Army trucks on the I-40 bridge over the Tennessee River. It made sense to Hank that the military would use the interstate to move troops. They decided to stay to the back roads and small towns. It would take some time because there was no road except the interstate that went straight from here to where they wanted to be. At the end of the hour, they had mapped out the route they would take. It would keep them away from the bigger towns. The cattle trailer wouldn't bring any undue attention to them, so they shouldn't have any problems getting there. They packed up the maps and joined the others playing games.
While they were playing games, there was a knock on the front door. Hank went over to answer it and he welcomed the person in. He introduced the man as Parker Day. Parker was the radio operator who had arranged with Hank to be their host. They got to talking and when Cole told him about the information on the jump drives, he asked if he could get a copy of them. Hank didn't have any, but he did have a computer to keep records and so his kids could do research for school. They asked Cole to load them on the Jennings's computer and then Parker would copy the info off of them at another time. He wanted to be able to pass the information onto other people, so that word would get out about what was going on. The more people that knew about it, the more that could help stop all of this.
After Parker left, the group said their goodnights and headed out to the barn to bed down. Hank had given them a couple of electric lanterns to give them some light up in the loft. There were also some work lights in the barn, but the light switch was in the lower part of the barn, not up in the loft. There was a toilet and sink out there, so they were able to take care of nature before going to sleep. Cooper and Tyler decided to take a little walk outside before going to bed. They wanted to spend some quiet time together for a little while.
They went around the barn and found a small flatbed trailer for the tractor. They climbed up onto it and sat next to each other. They could look up and see stars through the scattered clouds. Neither said a thing, they just sat there holding hands. It was Tyler that broke the silence.
"Do you think you'll go back Coop?"
"I hope so. I won't live with my parents if I can help it, but I do want to see my grandparents again. I hope all this is over soon, so we can go back. It's kind of scary. Lucky for us we've been able to get rides most of the way. The ride on the boat today was pretty cool. I wouldn't mind doing that again." Tyler nodded. "Yeah it was. Maybe you and Cole can go with me and my dads on a boat once things settle down wherever we end up. We can ask 'em."
Cooper nodded. "Yeah that would be cool." He leaned his head on Tyler's shoulder and Tyler put his arm around Cooper. They sat there just looking up at the stars. A few minutes later Cooper turned and kissed Tyler on the cheek. "I love you Ty. Thanks for being my boyfriend." They both turned to each other and kissed as they hugged.
In the trees near the barn, the three Tucker brothers watched as the two teens came out of the garage and went over to sit on the hay trailer. They had returned to the farm from their campsite, intending to sneak in and rifle through the packs that they knew were in the barn, but had to stop and lay low, when they saw the group head out to the barn and not come out.
"Shit, they must be stayin' in the barn." He looked at his brothers and a smile came to his face. "But we got guns, and I ain't seen them with any. It'll be easier and faster this way. We'll have 'em hand over their goods. We won't even have to search for 'em. We can be gone afore anyone'll know. They don't know us…." He suddenly got an idea and took his kerchief out of his pocket and tied it around his lower face. "We'll wear masks. No one'll know who done it." His two brothers grinned and pulled their kerchiefs out and mimicked Alvin. "We'll wait until them two kids head back inside. We come in behind 'em and we'll surprise 'em all."
His brother nodded and checked their guns. They turned around and Alvin's eyes narrowed. "What the fuck. Look at that. Them two boys are faggots. That's some fucked up shit. I wonder if theys any other faggots in there. Now I don't much care what we do to them, since theys probably all faggots and faggot lovers. I heerd the Prezdent, don't like them faggots at all. C'mon boys, let's take care of a coupla faggots."
Alvin moved forward slowly, keeping the tractor and the other farm equipment between them and the two teens. The two boys didn't notice the three guys sneaking up on them, because they were kind of busy. It wasn't until they were yanked apart and a dirty hand was clamped over their mouths that they knew something was wrong. They looked at each other in fear and saw some guys with kerchiefs covering their lower face, like old west robbers. While Ernie and Haywood held the boys, Alvin came into view. They could see the evil look in his eyes as he leaned in close to them and spoke quietly.
"You two faggots gonna help us, or I'm going to fuck you up. Unnerstand?" The two boys nodded after a moment. "We's gonna go in there and yer friends are gonna give us whatever we want. If'n you don't, since faggots like you like something up they's ass, we'll shove these guns up there so far and blow yer fuckin' brains out. You got me?" Both boys nodded. They had tears in their eyes now and Alvin slapped both of them. "Look at the little pussy's cryin'. Typical faggot. All you faggots ain't real men, just little cryin' pussy's. Hay, you'll walk behin' that 'un with yer shotgun and Ern you take this 'un with your rifle. I'll be behind y'all with my rifle in case either a these faggots or their faggot friends try something."
Alvin didn't even think about the fact that he had just called his brothers by name, or at least a shortened version of them. He, like his brothers wasn't very smart. Ernie and Haywood stepped behind the boys and poked them in the back with their guns. Alvin spoke from behind them. "Move faggots. Jes remember what I said, don't try nuthin' or y'all will be dead. I ain't gotta problem of riddin the world of two less faggots. Y'all don't deserve to live in this country with yer perversions. Tha's what the Prezdent says and he's right."
The two boys started walking to the barn and went inside. The overhead lights were still on. When the door opened Cole's voice came from the hay loft above. "That you Coop? Can you turn off the worklights. We're about ready to bed down." Cooper didn't know if he should say anything, but there was a hiss to be quiet and a hard poke from the rifle at his back. A moment later Cole spoke again. "Coop?" At the top of the ladder the three men saw the older teen come to the ladder. Cole's smile dropped and he froze, when he saw Tyler and Cooper held at gunpoint and a third person pointed a rifle at him. All three men had their faces covered.
"All a ya, git down, or we'll splatter these two faggots all over the barn." Cole swallowed and nodded. He looked behind him. "There's some masked guys down there with guns on Cooper and Tyler. They want us to come down or they'll shoot them." Damon and Grant grabbed each other in shock. "C'mon, we gotta go down there." They all, of course, nodded. Cole turned around and started down to the floor, followed by the others. Once they were all down, the men pushed the two boys hard, causing them to stumble to their knees with the rest of the group. They stood in front of them holding their guns on them.
The one who had done all the talking walked forward and looked them over. "Well lookee here. Ooee, look at that sweet thing. Come here darlin'" He walked over and pulled Amy to his side causing her to let out a whimper of fright. He reached up and slid his hand through her hair. "Yeah, ya look real nice and ya got some soft hair. Hmmm, I'd love to show ya how good a man can make ya feel." Alvin turned around to face the group and put his arm around Amy's shoulder and pulled her tight against him. He noticed Cole glaring at him with clenched fists and chuckled. "Well leastways, not all of ya 're faggots." He looked at Amy who now had frightened tears running down her face. "That yer boyfriend over there givin' me the evil eye?"
"Let her alone. We'll give you what you want, but don't hurt her." Alvin looked at Cole and lifted his rifle up in one hand to point at Cole. "Shut the fuck up boy or I'll put a bullet through ya." Cole tightened his lips and didn't say anything else as he glared at Alvin. Alvin chuckled as he held Amy a little tighter causing her to whimper a little more. He leered at her before lowering his rifle and looking at the group. "It's real simple what we want, give us all yer money and any jewelry and such and we'll let…."
Alvin was interrupted when they all heard something whip through the air followed by a loud crack and Haywood fell forward, the shotgun flying from his hands. "What the fuck!" They all stared at the body on the floor in shock. There was a blur of movement and another whipping sound. They all looked up from Haywood's body and saw Harlan whirling a six foot long pole around his head and bringing it straight across with both hands into the side of Ernie's head with a loud crack. Ernie's eyes changed to a surprised stare before they rolled up and he fell boneless to the ground, unmoving. His rifle clattered to the floor. Alvin released Amy who scuttled away and ran to Cole, as he brought his rifle up and took a quick shot at Harlan, who had dropped to the ground in a split. Alvin was working the bolt of the rifle when he heard a yell of rage and turned around to point the rifle, but stopped as he felt something jammed hard into his stomach just below his rib cage. He looked down and saw the tines of a pitchfork jammed upward all the way to the end of the fork. He looked down and saw one of the boys with a white knuckled grip on the handle of the pitchfork glaring at him.
Alvin growled as he tried to bring his rifle up to shoot the little bastard, but found he suddenly couldn't seem to get his breath. He dropped the rifle and reached up to pull the kerchief away from his face so he could get some air into his lungs. There was bloody froth on his lips. Alvin stumbled back, pulling the pitchfork handle out of Will's hands. He grabbed at his throat trying to breathe through his two collapsing lungs. He was making gagging sounds as he tried to pull in air. Because Will was shorter, the tines of the fork had entered Alvin in an upward direction, aided by the curve of the fork. It had come up under his rib cage and pierced through his diaphragm and into both lungs and his heart. He was already dead, his body just didn't know it yet. As he stumbled back, he tripped over the body of his brother Ernie and fell onto his back. The pitchfork was sticking straight up in the air and quivering as he struggled to both breathe and pull the invading implement out of his body.
Everyone stood there in shock, watching Alvin's writhing body as it slowly stopped moving. Just as he quit moving, the door to the barn burst open and a shirtless Hank came in with a shotgun up and ready, beside him was his son Randy, with another shotgun at the ready. They took in the scene and lowered their guns.
Harlan got up from the floor and dropped the pole that looked like it was the handle of some sort for a rake or a hoe or something like that. Will stood there staring in shock at Alvin's body and then he dropped to his knees and threw up. Harlan ran over to the younger boy and held him as he got rid of his dinner. When he stopped throwing up, he turned and clung tightly to Harlan who held him and rocked him as he cried.
Hank looked each body over, starting with the one with a pitchfork sticking out of his gut. He looked down at Alvin's staring eyes with disgust on his face. "Alvin Tucker." He checked the other two. "And his brothers Ernie and Haywood." Alvin was obviously dead. He checked the other two, neither had a pulse. He saw where they had been hit in the head. "What happened to these two?"
"I hit them." He looked at Harlan. "With what, a sledgehammer?" Harlan pointed at the rake handle on the floor. Hank picked it up. "With this?" Harlan nodded. "A staff generates over two thousand pounds of force per square inch when it hits something at full speed. A skull can only withstand eight pounds of force per square inch." Hank looked down again and nodded. "Yeah. I can see that." He stood up. "C'mon, let's go up to the house. I'm sure the boy there could use some washing up. The rest of y'all need something warm in you."
Harlan helped Will stand up, but Will continued to cling to him, so he kept his arm around the boy and guided him out of the barn. Amy was holding on to Cole's arm and averted her eyes from the dead men. As they left the barn, they gave the bodies a wide berth.
In the house, Harlan helped Will into the bathroom so that he could clean up. The front of his shirt was a mess, there was some on his pants as well, so Harlan helped him get the shirt off, since it was the worst. He told Will to take a shower while he went and got him some clean clothes out of his pack. As he walked to the door, he saw that the others were sitting talking quietly and drinking from steaming mugs.
When he got to the barn, he saw Hank and his son Randy had an ATV parked with a small trailer that had a tarp on it, which was attached to the ATV. One of the bodies was already loaded on the trailer. They were carrying the next body over to the trailer. Hank looked at Harlan and nodded.
"We're going to dump the bodies and their guns out in the woods and let the animals take care of them. It may be a few weeks or months before someone finds whatever is left of them. Nobody should be able to connect them to what happened here." Harlan helped with the last body before he climbed up into hay loft to get some clean clothes for Will and a shirt for himself, since some of the vomit got rubbed off on him when Will had clung to him.
When he returned to the bathroom, he knocked on the door. "Come in." When he opened the door he saw Will sitting on the toilet in his briefs with a towel around his shoulders, staring at the wall. "I brought you a clean pair of pants and shirt from your pack." Will gave him a wan smile of thanks. Harlan nodded and started to leave. "Stay please." Harlan looked into the pleading eyes of the younger boy and nodded. Will got dressed and finished drying his hair. There was a brush on the counter, so he used it to fix his hair.
Will looked at him. "You alright Will?" Will nodded. "I think so. I just couldn't let him shoot you Harlan." Harlan nodded and hugged the younger boy. "I know buddy. That was very brave of you to do that. You probably saved my life. Thank you, buddy." They stayed in the bathroom for a little while longer before William let go. "No. Thank you Harlan." Harlan smiled and picked up Will's clothes.
When they walked into the room, Emily came over to them and took the dirty clothes from them. "Are you boys okay?" Both nodded a little. She reached out and gently placed a hand on Will's cheek. "I'll clean these up and get them back to you." She left and came back moments later with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. "Here dears. This'll warm your insides. Make you feel better." They thanked her and joined the others.
"Harlan can I ask you something?" Harlan looked at Noah for a few moments. Noah bit his lip nervously and then took a sip of his hot chocolate. "Um, sorry." Harlan shook his head. "Don't worry. It's okay. Go ahead."
"Are you some sort of karate master or something?" Harlan gave him a little smile. "I've been studying Karate since I was about eight. I just earned my black belt a few months ago, part of that training was martial arts weapon training, so I've practiced using a staff as a weapon, among other weapons."
"How did you get behind them?" Harlan shrugged. "I didn't come down the ladder. When they called for us to come down, I hung back a bit and then climbed down another part of the hay loft. Once I was down, I moved forward quietly and I saw them push Ty and Cooper down. I found that rake handle nearby and picked it up. Then I slipped forward and hit the first one, you know the rest."
"Well thank you for doing that." Harlan shook his head. "No. It was William who was the bravest one. He saved my life." He gave Will, who was sitting on the floor next to him a one armed hug. Will gave him a slight smile. As they finished up their drinks Hank and Randy came in the house.
"Okay, everything's back to normal. You should be okay now."
"Who were those guys?" Hank scowled a little and shook his head in disgust. "They are a bunch of inbred idiots who are known around the area. They're poachers, they hunt out of season. I've heard stories that they have a pot farm somewhere back in the woods, along with a still. Anything bad that happens around here, they're probably involved in it. They've gotten worse since their parents died. They are suspected in a lot of thefts. They've been running wild in this county for too long a time. They're just all around bad people. But don't you worry bout them. Y'all should probably try to get some sleep. It's going to take a while to get to your next stop."
"Are there any other people like them that we have to worry about?" Hank looked at Elise and shook his head. "Not like them boys. There's others who are bad ones, but not like them. Y'all are safe now. In fact there's lots of people that are safer with those low lifes gone." Elise thanked him.
They all agreed and got up, taking their cups into the kitchen. They said goodnight once again and headed back out to the barn. Back in the barn there was no evidence that something had happened. They climbed back up to the loft and tried to settle down. It took a while before they were comfortable enough, but eventually they all went to sleep. William had moved closer to Harlan for comfort.
The sound of a rooster crowing woke them up. There were some groans and complaints about the early morning wake up, but they slowly got moving. A couple of the boys had to be shaken before they opened their eyes. As they were stretching and getting up, they heard noise below them. Cole held his hand up to them and quietly walked over to the ladder leading down. Just as he reached it, Randy reached the top of the ladder. "Good morning. My dad sent me to fetch y'all to breakfast." Cole nodded and waved to the others. They went down the ladder and followed Randy into the house.
Inside, a couple of the adults volunteered to help with breakfast while the others washed. Once everyone was done, breakfast was served. Because of how many there were, they had to spread out around the house. Most of the kids went to sit on the floor in the living room, while the adults and Cole as the leader of the group sat at the dining room table.
"After breakfast we need to get the trailer fixed up for you to ride and load the cows that we'll use for camouflage." Hank explained to them. After breakfast was over, some stayed behind to help clean up, while the others followed Hank out to the barn.
The stock trailer was parked on the side of the barn with some large tarps over it. They helped him get the tarps off and he showed them the movable walls that would allow them to be separated from the cattle. Hank was right, it was a bit ripe, so several of the boys were put to cleaning it out first. Once the worst of it was cleaned out, they hauled some hay bales inside. Some they broke apart to spread in the front end and the rest they placed so that it could be used to feed the cattle for the trip. Once the front part was covered with hay, they brought the backpacks down from the loft. Emily hurried out to give Harlan and Will the clothes that she cleaned up for them. They had forgotten about them, in the preparations to get ready to leave. They thanked her, packed them away and climbed inside the trailer to stow their packs.
Once all the packs were stowed, they came outside to say goodbye to Emily, Erin and Bobby. Randy was coming along to help his dad on the trip. Emily gave them a bag with sandwiches and fruit for lunch and wished them luck. All but Cole piled in and one of the walls was moved and locked into position to separate them from the cattle. Cole helped Hank and his two sons hook up the truck and trailer, before driving it to the pasture where the cows were kept. The four of them then herded a few of the cows into the back of the trailer and made sure they were secured and had some hay to eat.
With everything set it was time to go. Cole once again had his map out and made notes as they drove. Randy sat in the front passenger seat with a map open so that Hank could find the best roads to take. Many times Cole was leaning forward from the back of the cab to compare his map to Randy's. Cole had told them about seeing the army trucks and the soldiers on the I-40 bridge that crossed the river. So Hank made sure that the overpass that he took had no connection to the interstate. When they crossed over, it looked deserted. There were no vehicles on the road at all. It was a little eerie. Normally, you would expect at least some cars on it, but not today.
The roads that Hank took kept them well north of the interstate and only went through a town when they absolutely had to. Otherwise it was farmland or wilderness. Hank made sure that the towns that they did go through were small enough that they were mainly a wide spot in the road. There were very few cars on the roads he took. Hank had to pull over a few times, to take a look at the map and decide which the best route to take was. Their goal was a farm just outside Cedar Grove and although it would normally have taken about forty-five minutes to get there by car, it was a little over two hours before they pulled into the farm yard.
Cole noticed an antenna like Mister Woods had, so he was pretty sure this was the place. When they stopped, he got out and walked up to the farmhouse. A middle aged plump woman had come to the door when they drove up and she waited for Cole to walk over.
"Hello Ma'am. I'm looking for a woman called Moses?" The woman looked at him and smiled. "You've come to the right place son. I'm Henny. Well Henrietta, but Henny to my friends and family." She looked behind him, "You can tell your friends to come on up. I'll call Arlo, he's out in the fields right now. He'll come on up when he hears we got company."
"Thank you Ma'am, but you're going to call him? Are the phones working again?" She shook her head. "No. Me and Arlo got a set of them walkie-talkie things. It makes it easy to get in touch with him when he's out working in the fields." Cole nodded his understanding and headed back to the truck. "This is the place. The lady is going to call her husband on their walkie-talkie, he's out in the fields right now." Hank nodded. "Well let's get everyone out. You can help Randy and I push the cattle to the side so the others can get out." Cole nodded and followed them to the back. They opened one of the back gates to the trailer and climbed up.
"We're here. Give us a minute to get the cows pushed to one side and Randy'll get the gate open. Y'all can slide on past and out the back." The news was greeted with some cheers. Hank noted a couple of greenish faces and chuckled a little. "I hope y'all weathered the trip okay. I know it ain't the most comfortable way to travel, but you're here safe and sound."
"Well a couple of us were starting to get a little car sick, or rather trailer sick, especially with the winding roads and the smell, but one of the boys had some Dramamine in his first aid kit and that seemed to help, but it will be good to be back on solid ground again."
"Well, just a moment and you can get out and breathe some fresh air that don't smell like cow." Hank had Cole help him push the cattle to the side, while Randy went to the gate and unlatched it. He used it to help keep the cattle to the side, while the riders walked out of the trailer. They were all grateful to get off and breathe fresh air. Once they were all out, Randy latched the wall to the side, so that the cows now had more room. The last three hopped out and closed the truck up.
"Well Cole. Good luck, we're going to head back home. I think we'll take a little more direct route back home, since we don't have y'all with us." He and Randy shook hands with everyone. "Thanks Mister Jennings, Randy. For everything. I hope there won't be any trouble because of last night." Hank dismissed his concerns with a wave. "I don't expect there'll be any problems. Sides, them boys probably won't be found for some time and I know they won't be missed. You just keep going, till y'all are safe."
He gave them one last wave as he and Randy climbed back into the truck and headed home. As he pulled out, an old beat up pickup truck drove up. The driver waved to Hank as he pulled out. A man about the same age as Henny got out of the truck and walked over.
"I guess y'all are the people we was expectin'. Which one is Cole?" Cole raised his hand. "I am sir." The man came over to him. "Well Cole, good to meet you. My name's Arlo Wiggins. I'm sure y'all have met my lovely wife Henny. Welcome to our home."
"Thank you for being part of this, sir. It would be hard to do this without your help."
"Don't mention it son. When I heard on my radio…" He pointed to the building that had the antenna attached to it. "…about what y'all were doing, I was glad to help. Why don't y'all come in and rest yourself. I, however, have to get back out to the fields. I've got a little more work to do before I'm done for the day, I can cut it little short though. I'll finish up what I'm doing and be back in a couple of hours."
Henny smiled and invited them inside. They followed her into the house, leaving their backpacks outside in a pack line. Henny told them that she would get some lunch ready, but they let her know that they had some already packed. She nodded and offered them something to drink with their lunch, which they all accepted.
With lunch over, the adults stayed inside to visit with Henny, while the younger members went outside to look around. It was cool, but at least they could wander around and explore a bit. There were several buildings on the property. None of them were locked up, so they were able to poke around and see what was inside. Besides the house there was a large tin roofed barn, like the Jennings had. Inside there was some farm equipment and several stalls two of which had horses in them. There was another smaller building that had a chicken coop and some penned up pigs in it. The building that had the tall Ham radio antenna next to it had a workshop inside. There was also a locked door that they guessed had Arlo's Ham radio inside.
As they walked around, Amy stuck close to Cole with her arm wrapped around his. They seemed to be enjoying each other's company. Cooper and Tyler were also staying close to each other. They refrained from holding hands, because their relationship was still pretty new, and they were nervous about showing any such displays in case their hosts had a problem with it. They knew that it might be okay, because the Wiggins' were helping them out, but they weren't sure of how much they knew about why they were trying to escape.
About the middle of the afternoon, Arlo returned in his old pickup truck. The kids were out in the yard playing Ultimate with a Frisbee that one of the boys had carried in his backpack. He waved to them when he got out of the truck. He turned to head across the dirt road and Nick wondered what he was doing and trotted after him.
"Mister Wiggins. Where're you going now? Do you have more work to do? Like driving a tractor or something?" Arlo looked over at the youngest of the boys and smiled. "Naw son. I've gotta get the afternoon milking done." Nick's eyes widened. "Really? Can I watch?" He smiled at the youngster's enthusiastic question. "Sure son. Come on, I'll show you how it's done. What was your name?"
"Nick." Arlo grinned. "Well Nick, let's go do some milking." Nick was practically skipping with excitement as he walked along with Arlo to the barn.
Instead of going to the barn that the boys had explored earlier, Arlo walked across the dirt road that ran in front of the house, and headed to another building across the road. As they got closer Nick could see that it was a barn as well, just smaller than the big barn that they had explored earlier. He could hear the sound of cows mooing on the other side of the building. Arlo led the way inside the barn. There was a line of stanchions for holding four cows at a time in place.
Arlo had Nick help him put some hay in the trough for the cows for them to eat while they were being milked. He showed Nick how to work the lever that closed the stanchions so that the cows were held in place. Once he was sure that Nick knew what he was doing, he went through a gate that was on the other side of the stations and to a door on one end of that section and opened it. A small herd of twelve cows looked like they were waiting for him. He opened the door and let four cows through. That done, he closed the door, keeping the others out. The cows seemed to know what they were doing as they headed to the trough and put their heads through the stanchions to get to the hay. As each one stuck its head through, Nick worked the lever to close the stanchion. The cows didn't even move, they just continued munching on the hay.
While they had been getting ready inside the barn, some of the others noticed Nick walking with Arlo across the street. When they didn't come back out right away a few of them were curious so they crossed the road to the building. They went inside just as the first four cows were brought into the milking barn. Arlo and Nick both looked over at the opening door. "Hey guys, Mister Wiggins is going to show me how he milks his cows. Isn't that cool?" The others looked interested as well and asked if they could watch too.
"Well this ain't exactly a spectator sport, but if'n you wanna help. I wouldn't say no." The boys smiled and agreed to help. "Okay, Nick's got stanchion and feedin' duty, some of you can help him with that. Why don't some of you older boys come around here and help me set up the milking machines." They sorted themselves out. William, Noah and Michael moved over to help Nick, while Harlan, Cooper, Tyler and Danny went through the gate to help Arlo. Amy didn't like the smell in the barn and talked Cole into taking a walk. As they left the boys all traded grins.
Arlo had the boys help him bring the four portable milk machines out of a room nearby. There were two pumps on each cart and he had them position them so that they were between two cows. He pulled out some gloves and some cleansing soap and showed them how to clean the udders. Once he was satisfied, he showed them how to hook up the machine to the cow and begin the pump. They followed his instructions and soon the four cows were being milked. It took about five minutes until Arlo told them to turn off the pumps. He showed them how to hook the filled containers to another pump that emptied them into the refrigeration room next door. While a couple of the boys emptied the containers, Arlo had Harlan help him get the cows out of the milking room and bring another four in and get them in position. Once they were ready, he had them attach fresh containers to the portable machine and four more cows were soon being milked. Nick and the boys outside wanted to learn how to do it, so he had the boys switch around and taught the other boys on the last group of four.
When all twelve were done, then the dirty part started. Everything had to be cleaned up. He got shovels and a wheelbarrow so that they could pick up the cow manure and sweep out the barn. Some did that while he had the others clean out the pumping containers and ensure all the lines were cleaned of any residual milk. Once they were done he looked around and smiled with satisfaction. "Well boys, y'all might not have been born on a farm, but you make good hard working hands. That would have taken me a lot longer to do by myself. You did good. Thanks for givin' me a hand. Now I think it's time for us to head back to the house and get cleaned up. I expect supper'll be ready soon."
The boys were all smiling as they left the barn and went with Arlo over to the house. They saw that Cole and Amy were sitting on a porch swing talking and smiling at each other. Nick ran over to the two of them. "Amy, you guys should of stayed! It was cool! We got to milk the cows and all. Arlo let us all help him. He said we were good hands." Cole chuckled and ruffled his hair. "That does sound like it was fun Nick." Amy wrinkled her nose. "Ew, Nicky, you stink. You need to get cleaned up." He smiled. "That's cuz, I'm a good hard working hand." She leaned forward to push him away. "Go and clean up Nicky." She looked up and saw the rest of them and she shook her head. "I think you all need to clean up." They looked down and saw that there was hay and smudges of dirt on their clothes from when a cow had rubbed up against them.
They looked at Arlo. "Is it okay if we get cleaned up Mister Wiggins." He looked at them and nodded, "Yep, I think that would be a good idea. Henny'd never let me hear the end of it, if I let you eat without getting cleaned up." He went inside to tell everyone that the boys had helped him and were going to get cleaned up. While he went inside, the boys went to their packs to retrieve clean clothes.
When he had his bundle of clothes, Nick ran in and went over to his mom. "Hey Mom guess what? We got to help milk the cows." Elise turned around and then stepped back. "Phew, yes I can tell, Nicky. You need to go take a shower." Nick held up his bundle of clothes. "That's where I'm going now, I just wanted to tell you about milking the cows." She smiled at him. "That's good, go on now and clean up for dinner."
Nick took off to grab one of the showers, but he was too late, so he had to stand outside one of the bathrooms until it was empty. When the bathroom opened, Tyler and Cooper came out. They blushed when they saw Nick standing there and quickly walked away. He looked after them for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders and went into the bathroom.
They were told to leave their dirty clothes outside the bathroom so they could get picked up to be cleaned. The adults, who were not helping with dinner, gathered the kids' dirty clothes and took them to the laundry room to get them washed. They finished cleaning up and went into the living room to sit down until supper was ready. Supper was a large ham and all the fixings.
Just as the meal was about over, there was a knock on the front door. Henny got up to answer it and saw that it was Grace, a friend from Cedar Grove who ran the Post Office. "Good evening Henny. Sorry to come so late in the day, but I really need some milk and butter, I'm all out." Henny nodded. "Of course Grace, come on in. I'll ask Arlo to fetch some from storage for you."
Grace followed her and stopped when she saw all of the people. "Gracious me. I didn't know you had company Henny. Maybe I should go." Henny waved her off. "You're already here Grace." She turned to Arlo. "Arlo, would you go and get some milk and butter for Grace. She said she's all out." Arlo looked up and nodded. He put his napkin on the table as he stood up. "I'll be right back with your things Grace."
She nodded her thanks and looked around the room. "Well Henny aren't you going to introduce me to your friends or are they family?" Henny smiled and looked at Cole. "Well they're friends, come by for a visit. They've come over from near Nashville." Henny proceeded to introduce them. She introduced Cole first. "Good evening Ma'am. It's nice to meet you." She smiled at him and Henny continued with the introductions. Arlo returned with Grace's package. "Here you are Grace." She took the package. "Thank you both, you're a lifesaver." She turned to the guests. "Very nice to have met you all, although I'm certain I won't remember your names, but you have a safe trip back home." They all wished her a good evening. Arlo walked her out to her car. No one said anything until Arlo came back in.
"Well folks, I spect you want to know where you'll be sleepin'. It might be a little crowded but you can bed down in the house wherever you can find a spot. I had been thinkin' bout putting you up in the barn, but you did good work for me and I thought it might be a bit cold out there. It's been warmer than normal lately, but it's still mighty cold outside at night. So since some of you boys helped me with my chores this afternoon, I decided that you should stay in the house where it's warmer."
"We appreciate it sir, as long as it's no trouble. What about that lady, uh, Grace" He shook his head. "No trouble at all son. And don't worry 'bout Grace. We can put your packs out in the barn if you don't mind. It might be a tad crowded with all of you and the packs." Cole nodded. "That's probably a good idea. Guys get your things and find a place."
"I was thinking that Mister and Missus Tuttle could have one of the bedrooms and the young lady could have the other. You guys won't mind roughing it do you."
"No sir. We'll be okay. Thank you once again." They went outside and grabbed their bags and pads. Arlo showed Cole where to stow the packs. Back in the house, Arlo watched as they set out their bags. "Well, work comes early on a farm, so sleep well. We'll see you in the morning."
They all wished him and Henny goodnight as the couple went to their room. Some of them stayed up a little bit longer to make sure all of their clothes were clean before going to sleep. Cole sat with Barry and Danny to make sure their maps matched and talked about the next day's travel.
"I figure if we head west from here. It's mostly farmland, except….oh, that's probably not good." They all looked at what Barry was pointing at on the map. There was a large area that had a boundary line around it. In the middle of the area were the words: Milan Army Ammunition Plant. "Okay, maybe we need to head a bit farther south before we go west." They looked at the map and Cole nodded.
"That might be better anyway. We can stay away from the bigger towns going southwest first before turning west. That will keep us farther away from the ammunition plant too. Then we can head to the northwest about here. We'll need to push as much as possible each day. I think we should try to get about here the first day. This patch of woods should be a good place to make camp. Then the next day we can go this way. The hardest part will be crossing this highway. Once we cross the highway then we can head to the northwest to the next station. It may take us about four days to get there. We'll have to make about ten or twelve miles each day."
Barry Pickens nodded. "That sounds good Cole. We'll have to be careful around the farms though. It would be a good idea to find a good camping spot while it's still light out each day. We'll need to make sure we get an early start, so we can make as many miles as possible." Cole nodded as he started folding up his map. "I guess that's enough planning for tonight. We should get some sleep, so we can start out early." Barry agreed and they said their goodnights and went to their sleeping bags.