Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chapter 33

And they lived ….

"Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century." – Mark Twain

Life didn’t suddenly get easy and people didn’t suddenly change their spots.  But for all of it life has been pretty good with lots of silver linings even when there were grey and black clouds. 

It took a lot longer to empty out the flooded areas than was originally planned because in behind the dry year we had a couple more wet ones.  And some places never have gone back to what they were before as the land seemed to adopt some of the new lakes and refuse to give them up.  Some of the relics of the pre-flood days have completely disappeared, towns chose not to rebuild, landmarks eroded or destroyed.  But the parkways and highways were eventually rebuilt and the government used projects like that to get those that wanted to work back at it.  People that didn’t want to work found themselves out in the cold and that was certainly a surprise to some.   

The East Coast is so different that I doubt anyone can adequately explain it.  Even more changed are the people left from the experience.  While there was a baby boom there was also a great big “die off” of people just like when there are too many animals trying to survive off too small of an area.  And no one threw out big bales of hay for them to survive off of.  Starvation, disease … and frankly it seemed like some people died just to prove a point and make others feel guilty.  I never was so glad to see most of the can’t-help-it types take off for greener pasture, though rumor had it they never found it. 

As for us and ours, Lee and his family were much in demand because they were so good at demolition and restoration carpentry.  I got my fair share of work as well.  Seems people really didn’t mind a woman stonemason the way I had expected them to.  All folks really want in this life is a good job for a good price done in good time. 

I did get a few squirrely looks when I got pregnant that first time.  And the looks really got bug-eyed when it was twins and I carried them from job to job.  After a while though people just started accepting us as one of those crazy Thompson families from out on Turner Road. 

By the time the twins were of an age to start school they had three little sisters and Lee had his first gray hair.  His father still likes to rib him about it.  It was when the youngest of the three girls was only a couple of weeks old that Papa T and Mr. Thompson both started having health problems.  Then suddenly Grams was just gone all in a week after a fall that broke her hip.  Papa T nearly followed her but seemed to pull back and was with us another five years before getting called Home. 

This transition time gave the family the opportunity to find their footing and spread out into a more healthy distance, taking more responsibility rather than expecting the patriarchs and matriarchs to have ultimate say on everything.  And though some distance was created, at least in this part of the county you’re a Thompson by name, by blood, or by marriage.  There are very few who can really be said not to be kin in some way … even if it is the long way around. The kids all complain of having to compare genealogies just to make sure they aren’t dating a close cousin of some type. 

The land has healed though every where you look there’s reminders of that decade of lunacy the world went through.    It is against international law to even think about fooling with the weather.  They’re still remapping in places around the world … and counting the dead as excavations reveal piles of bones of the missing and unaccounted for.  The preacher says it’s unlikely all those piles will be revealed until Judgment Day.  I can believe it. 

Lee did finally go back and finish his college education when someone on the county’s historical society offered to fund it if he’d do pro bono work for them for a certain number of years.  I wondered at first if I would feel left behind – especially when he started polishing up and seemed less and less the boy and young man he’d been early in our relationship – but I wound up being so busy that all I have felt was proud.  The twins will likely follow their father into architecture though we’ve told our brood not to expect a free ride as they need to work to prove they want it bad enough. 

I think one or two of the girls may go apprentice with their Aunt June.   She and Josh Daniel did get married.  They’ve had their ups and downs like most people but over all it’s been successful.  They surprised us all by choosing not to have children of their own.  Their decision and none of my business but it makes me uncomfortable when Uncle Jerry starts giving them the sad eyes when the kids and I are around.  That’s the only thing however that makes me uncomfortable about my uncle. 

Uncle Jerry is a changed man.  I could say it is his marriage to Aunt Cici that has done it – and I still have trouble calling her that after all this time – being on the receiving end of all that abuse, but that would only be part of it.  It could be seeing Todd Michael turn out like he has, burning through three wives, more ‘shine than can be measured, and abusing all of ‘em.  Todd Michael finally wound up in a sanitorium and we all pray that he gets some help in getting his head on straight.  Mostly I think Uncle Jerry has changed because he’s finally give up and just let God.  Whatever it was or is, he’s now the man I needed him to be after my family died.  Some might say he’s a day late and a dollar short but I’m not complaining.  Things happen, when they happen, for a reason even when you can’t divine those reasons. 

And Lee has kept his promise; we do come up to the cave pretty regular.  Some years it is less and some years more but we still come.  In fact that’s where we are right now.  Lee asked if I minded if he has some of the family up this time so they could hunt together and clear off some of the deer that seem to want to strip the mountain tops this year they’re so numerous.  Like I was going to tell him no.  I’m expecting number eight – most likely number last too as every pregnancy has gotten harder as the babies have gotten bigger.  Being roughly the size of the Mt. Mitchell fire tower I am thankful not to have to do all of the processing myself. 

I’m so big in fact I make all the men nervous and they finally begged me just to sit and stop waddling around and giving them palpitations.  Since I was so inclined anyway I’ve been doing just that but since I’ve never been one who could sit and do nothing this family history is the result. 

But vacation is over and just in time too.  I’ve run out of pages in my spiral bound notebook and I’ve got a back ache … I won’t tell Lee yet, I don’t need him turning green and keeling over this early.  He’s been with me at each confinement but still hasn’t quite recovered from having to deliver the last one himself when a winter storm made the roads impassable. 

I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring but it should be interesting and we’ll survive.  I’ve made sure we’ve made a habit of it.


Chapter 32

A Place to Call Home

"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.” – Mark Twain

 “There” wound up being the little house that Lee’s Aunt Pet used to live in at one time. 


“I know its little but I can fix that eventually.  And I figure you could had a few of your own idea like we used to talk about.” 

“But … how … I mean … Lee I don’t even have a job yet and I haven’t seen that you have one either.  How could we pay for this?” 

“Papa T said he’s been holding onto it for me.  That Aunt Pet signed it over to him when she had to move to town ‘cause she didn’t want her kids getting in a snot about it.  He said he’d been concerned that we couldn’t handle a place of our own but then you fixed Gram’s birdbath that got broken in that last storm and did it so tight you can’t tell it’d ever been broke … and all without asking.” 

“Oh it was just the base.  Nothing some mortar and a little shaping couldn’t fix.” 

I felt my ears go hot.  Getting praise from Lee’s grandfather was a pretty big deal as the man was a miser with his words.  He was the type that would choose to use one word instead of two and would substitute a grunt, sigh, or look for the one if he could get away with it.” 

“But what about …” 

Lee shook his head having read my mind like he used to.  “Don’t even say it.  You can’t please everyone.  Sure some of the family will be a little bent out of shape over it but most of them have already had the opportunity to be free and independent … or they can make their own chance if they haven’t.  There are those that can go back to their places too … and some of ‘em plan to do just that in the Spring.” 

“What do your mom and dad think?” 

“Dad’s the one that brought up me building a place and then Papa T said why build and waste time and supplies when there was already this place.” 

“What about your mother and grandmother and the housework and such everyone talked about me helping with?” 

“That’s was mostly just my sisters running their mouths trying to get a rise out of you; take my advice and ignore ‘em, you’ll never get any peace otherwise.  As for the rest, things ain’t changed from when I first come to find you.  The grandparents and parents won’t push us out of the nest but they won’t hold us back from jumping out on our own either.  Dad said they’d like to see the more self-sufficient start moving along so there’s fewer excuses for the … er … other ones to continue to hang on without helping.  Dad and Mom both said we’re the best set to go first.  And since we wouldn’t be going too far they’re comfortable that they can still keep an eye on us.” 

“Best set?  Not that I think your folks owe us .. me … anything but all of what could be my dower is still back at the cave.” 

Lee just looked at me and then asked quietly, “You don’t remember do you?” 

Given the tone of his voice I asked worriedly, “Something … something happened to the cave?” 

“It’s empty.” 

My heart sank.  “Oh no.  How …?” 

“Easy there.  We emptied it.” 

Confused I tried to remember and it just brought on a headache.  “I … ?  Huh?” 

He then explained how he, his dad, and a few others from the family emptied the cave and carted everything down. 

“Had to come in at night and run it by the old ‘shine routes to keep folks out of our business.” 

“But …” 

“Bella just listen Sweetheart and don’t get mad.  You were bad off.  I was scared to move you ‘cause of how bad off you were.  Weren’t even sure at the time what had happened.  So we moved everything else and then you and the ark.  We actually carted June Ellen up to you and she stabilized you so that we wouldn’t hurt you worse.  You were hardly ever conscious and when you were you didn’t make much sense or we’d have to repeat things over and over and you still didn’t remember.  You scared me so bad I don’t want to even think about it again and Dad was the only one that understood.  So just give me a chance and let me show you around OK?” 

He carried me up the stairs to the porch, unlocked the shutters across the door, then the door itself.  “It’s a mess.  I tried to pile things the way they made some sense but … well me and sensible weren’t having much to do with each other there for a while.  Uh … just …” 

“You had to give them the food.” 

“Huh?  No … no Bella.  I swear I wouldn’t just give you’re your hard work away.  I just … I’ll have to build you another greenhouse.  There was no way to dismantle it in the time we had.  Some of your plants didn’t make it down and the rest are in Gram’s seedling house.” 

Then I understood.  “You’re worried I’m upset about the greenhouse?!  Lee Ward Thompson sometimes I think you are three-quarters crazy.  Why would I be mad at you about that when you brought everything else down and me besides?” 

“Wellll ….” 

“Deep subject.  Now help me around.  There’s barely enough room to change your mind in here.”  I was happy to see our stuff and anxious to see what I had to work with as to getting it put in some order. 

I got my fill of looking and wanted to keep going but I was getting so tired.  Lee noticed and asked, “Bella, if … if I carry you upstairs, and put together the bed, you think you’d stay here tonight?  The fireplace up there is sound doesn’t smoke even a bit.” 

“You want to?” 


“And you really want to live here?” 


“What … what about the cave?” 

“We can always run up there and visit, just like you said your folks did.  Shirley’s husband went to the courthouse and you do own it free and clear … you just can’t really build on the land per se, at least not beyond maintaining the historical structures that are already there.  Property taxes are on a moratorium right now so that’s no problem either and I can work time with the county rehabbing the courthouse and things like that when the cash does need to come through.  They’ve already been talking to Dad about it.” 

I gave it a thought or two then nodded.  “Well, when I agreed to this thing between us I reckon I agreed to follow you wherever you led.  And it’s not like you haven’t been crazy about hunting for me not once but twice.  So I guess so long as you want to I guess here it is.  But Lee?” 


“Please promise that we can go back sometimes.  It’s where I feel closest to the memories of my family; where they hurt the least to think about.”
He gave me a careful hug and swore, “Of course we will Bella, I’d never take that away from you … never even think it.  If the Lord tarries and the creek don’t rise, I plan on us spending time up there regular.”

Chapter 31

Turning Wheels

"Forget and forgive. This is not difficult, when properly understood. It means you are to forget inconvenient duties, and forgive yourself for forgetting. In time, by rigid practice and stern determination, it comes easy.” – Mark Twain


It took a couple of days for my brain to start running on all cylinders again.  Both Uncle Jerry and Reverend Jacob were relieved – each for different reasons.  Uncle Jerry was relieved I was able to speak my mind and tell how things were and that he wouldn’t have a “Scarlet Woman” for a niece … though “Aunt Cici” seemed to be disappointed she wouldn’t be able to get rid of her stigma by pointing mine out.  And Reverend Jacob was happy to be able to mend the trouble his sister had started between his congregation and the well-thought of Thompson family.   

Of course everyone claimed to have known the truth but had been unable to convince anyone else of it no matter how hard they tried.  Yeah right.  People always write history so it shows them in the best light regardless of what had really happened.  And it sure got people talking about how “Sister Cici” had been and it brought up talk that was just beginning to die down. 

“Uncle Jerry, no offense but could you tell those folks to knock it off.  I’m sure they mean well but it is all water under the bridge and needs to be let go the same way the flood waters are drying up.  I don’t reckon any of us want to be carrying that stuff around forever and a day.” 

Uncle Jerry didn’t have much to say to me directly but what he did say made it appear that he was relieved that I was not asking for a pound of flesh or whatever that old saying is.  I didn’t have much to do with “Aunt Cici” regardless of the forgiveness factor but then again no one really expected it.  Frankly I was relieved when people stopped bringing it up.  To me it was old news that I didn’t want to relive. 

By the time a week had come and gone I was getting stir crazy.  Lee’s mother and grandmother treated me with the same fierce kinda protectiveness they treated the rest of Lee’s family and it was something I wasn’t used to at all.  Lee finally talked them around to letting me out of the house. 

“Lee, just rig me up a crutch.  I fell like an idiot with you pushing me around in this chair.” 

With a look that had pure refusal written all over it he said, “Just you hush.  You’re lucky you’re getting any further than the porch.” 

I reminded him by saying, “Even your mom and grandmother said it was fine.” 

All I heard was grumbling when kids passed us giggling and carrying on and making smooching noises.  “There’s no privacy around this place.” 

Finally having a place to start trying to talk Lee around again I said, “Then help me figure out a way to get back to the cave.” 

Lee sighed.  “Bella you know I would in a heart beat if it was possible but we’ve talked about this.  Until they catch the terrorists that set those bombs off that broke the lake dams and until the engineers can get things more stable so the water can be released gradually they’ve got enough military and militia swarming the area that it looks like an ant mound.  There is no sneaking back and they aren’t giving out any passes, not even to property owners.  Look, just let me show you around.  Please?” 

I wasn’t as against living with his family as he kept crediting me with being.  It just felt strange.  I kept getting these looks like I was an odd duck and they weren’t sure where I fit in with the flock or even if I would fit.  Lee’s grandmother was fine and his mother was as nice as she’d ever been, even Mr. Thompson was giving me grace despite the problems my uncle had given them because of me.  But the rest of them, that was different. 

Lee said, “You’re quiet.” 

“I guess.” 

“Are you angry?” 

“About what?” 

“C’mon Bella,” he said stopping at the bottom of a steep incline to rest before we went up.  “That I left you for so long.” 

I sighed.  “Lee, let it go already.  It looks like we both made mistakes and we’ll both just need to … find something that … I don’t know.” 

“Get’s us comfortable with each other again?” 

A little caught off guard by his statement I said, “Uh … well I … I meant working in the same direction … a goal or something like that.  Are … are you uncomfortable with me?” 

“Let’s put it this way,” he growled.  “All I want is to find a quiet corner so I can show you how much I missed you but every corner around this place is already taken up with someone else already using it.  I swear I’m about to bust with wanting you and needing you … I gotta show you …” 

I wasn’t feeling quite the same way but I patted his hand.  Lee seemed to be a bit more dramatic in his love than I was, not to mention I still wasn’t feeling up to being chased around all over the place.  Lee suddenly bent down and scooped me up.  I yelped, “What are you doing?  And don’t you dare tell me the woods ‘cause it’s cold and we already tried this last fall and wound up with chiggers.” 

He groaned.  “Don’t give me ideas Bella.  It’s hard enough to treat you careful when all I really wanna do is be a pig … and the chiggers were worth it.  I seem to recall the oatmeal baths were fun too and that’s just more memories that are making it awful uncomfortable to walk right now.” 

He said it with such disgust in his tone I had to hide a smile.  I didn’t really mind Lee’s drama … so long as he reserved it for private times and used commonsense all the rest of the hours of the day. 

At the top of the hill he stopped and complained, “You’re scrawny again.” 

Since that isn’t exactly what a girl wants to hear I asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“It means we’re gonna have to sew rocks into your pockets to keep you from blowing away until I can get you to put some meat back on your bones.” 

“You’re being silly again.  I thought I warned you against that.” 

“Humph.  I ain’t being that silly.  The cast on your leg is about the only thing of any substance on you right now.” 

“My leg is fractured not my brain, stop treating me like I’m helpless.  I don’t care for it at all.” 

He just ignored me, went back down to fetch the chair and when he came back I snapped, “Where are we going anyway?” 

“Gettin’ tired?” he asked concerned. 

“Tired of being pushed around like I don’t have any sense.” 

He kissed the top of my head but just kept pushing the wheelchair after he’d help me get sit in it once again.  “I know it’s ticking you off and I reckon I’d feel the same way … did feel the same way with every female in the family pecking at me like I didn’t have enough sense to know how to sneeze.  I wish I could make you feel better and want to and hope to with this little trip.  Hang on about twenty more minutes and we’ll be there.” 

“But where is there?”

Chapter 30


" You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns." – Mark Twain


“So you see Bella, I didn’t meant to leave like you think … or be away long at all.  Do you forgive me?”

To be brutally honest at that moment I would have forgiven a death row inmate if it would mean I would stop hurting.  I hurt all over, inside and out.  “Lee I think I’m gonna be sick.” 

“Let me get you some tea …” 

“No … no more.  I just want it to stop.  I’m …” 

“Shhh … I’m gonna get Mom.” 

In no time at all cool cloths were on my head and one was across my eyes.  “I don’t see a reason for the fever.  More than likely it is a delayed reaction.  You keep an eye on her, keep her quiet, and I’ll keep Poppa Jerry at bay.  The one thing she doesn’t need right now is pushing.” 

“He can’t have her,” Lee snapped. 

“You’re as bad as a scratched CD.  Poppa Jerry is just trying to deal with his guilt by making sure she’s given you the right to have her.” 

“That don’t make no sense.” 

“Neither does the way you’re acting.  You’re like a bear with a sore head or …” 

“Don’t even bring bears into this.  I find that bear that did this and I’ll …” 

Lee’s mother had something to say about the way he was acting too.  “Lee Ward, that’s enough.  June Ellen needs to go on her rounds and Elizabella needs to rest.  I allow you to sit in here with her – your color ain’t much better than hers – but you settle down.  And I better not catch that dog up on the comforter … or bird droppings on the sheets neither.  I swear its no wonder Elizabella’s head hurts … the whole lot of you don’t act you’ve got enough sense between you to fill a thimble.  And I want …” 

I must have drifted off while Mrs. Thompson was giving her lecture on what she wanted and what she didn’t because I came to to hear two men talking.   

“I just don’t understand Dad.  I just don’t.” 

“Hmph.  Maybe one of these days you boys will remember that you got to speak fully with a woman and not make assumptions ‘cause as soon as you leave a gap, their emotions are gonna fill it with something … and usually something wrongheaded.  Son, God made man the driver and gave him a map … what happens though when a driver ain’t paying attention or takes his hands off the wheel?” 

A deep sigh then, “OK, so I didn’t say all the details but still … why would she think I was tired of her or that I thought I’d made a mistake?” 

“Womens is curious and strange creatures  Used to think I had ‘em figured out then about that time I learned I only thought I did and that they were unfigureable.  Now all I know is that there’s a select few that are worthy of the title wife and when you find the right one for you there’s no living without ‘em.  But Lord, a vacation now and again don’t hurt.” 

I heard the creak of the door telling me someone had left, then I felt the compresses being changed.  “Lee, are you real?” 

He answered, “You sound dry as the Sahara used to be.  Here, take a sip of this.  It’s rose hip tea with some honey in it.” 

“Ok, but are you real?” 

Lee kissed my cheek.  “I’m real Bella.  June Ellen says you need to rest so you rest.  I’ll watch you.” 

“Why do you want to watch me for?” 

“’Cause I’m starved for you.  Nothing has been right for months.  Every which way I turned things went bad.” 

A thought floated by that I could hold on to.  “You said you got shot.” 

“Yeah, a couple of days after I finally managed to run into my meathead nephews who had also got picked up and forced into a federal wrecking crew.  My gawd, I hope to never see what’s left of Philadelphia or its like ever again.” 

“Why … how … Lee what were you doing so far from home?  I kinda remember you … you trying to explain that you got picked up the same day you left … while you were looking for a place to camp?  Things are kinda blurry.  Still why would they cart you all the way up there?” 

“No emotional attachments or so they said.  They didn’t have too good a handle on things … you can’t just steal people away like that and expect good results, especially the likes of some of those people.  There was a riot.” 

“Which is when you got shot.” 

“Yeah, Sam did too but I got hit in the leg which slowed us down getting home.  We were both in pretty bad shape, didn’t even realize how much time had passed.  Then no sooner do we get here than we all got locked down.” 

“That’s where the dysentery comes in.” 

“So they say though some were claiming it was cholera ‘cause of all that medication they were shoving at people that were showing symptoms and how they quarantined the area.  Those of us that got it don’t really care what it was called, it was just bad whatever it was.  It’s about that time – right before I come down with the fever – that I found your note with the ring in it.  I was so mad.  And then everything kept conspiring to get in my way.  I thought you’d be thinking I was dead or something … I never thought you’d think I was run off from you.  Why Bella?  Can you at least tell me that?” 

I was trying to remember how it came about but one thing stood out.  “You turned from me.  You looked sad all the time.  I’d try and talk and you’d snap you didn’t want to talk.  Then … then you looked so relieved and seemed so happy when I told you I wouldn’t stand in your way  It just seemed like there was nothing else I could think.” 

Lee clunked his head on the back of the rocker and I was about to tell him to stop that when he said, “I’m an idiot.”  He then leaned over and was patting my hand when he stopped short.  “Dang it.  June Ellen said I wasn’t to bother you and you’re shaken like a leaf.” 

“But you’re OK now?” 

Confused he asked, “Huh?” 

“You got shot, then you got sick.  You’re ok now?” 

Light dawning he said, “I’m OK now I have you.  I’m more interested in if you were ok.  Bella?” 

I couldn’t answer him as my fever had gone back up and everything else headed south.

Chapter 29

Calamitous Circumstances

" The calamity that comes is never the one we had prepared ourselves for." – Mark Twain

“Elizabella Kellen Heatherly!”

Oooooo … I knew that voice.

“It’s Thompson,” growled another male voice that I also knew.

“Not until Rev. Jacob says so it’s not.”

“I say so.”

They continued to snap and snarl and I heard a couple of females trying to hust them up but I’d about had it.

I asked to the ceiling, “I know I ain’t much to look at but my mirror at least let’s me know I ain’t some ol’ bone to be fought over by a couple a dogs.”

The bed bounced and then the one that had jumped on it got a might swat.  “Lee Ward Thompson!!  Did I almost die giving birth to a numbskull?!  What do you think you’re doing trying to tug on her like that?!”

“Ma!  I gotta hold her!  And explain!  You haven’t let me near her since …”

“And obviously with good reason.  Did that fever rattle your brains completely?  Now move off the bed right now until the girl can let her wishes be known.  For that matter, all of you scat … right now.”

The room grew quiet and I was finally able to make my eyes open and focus.  The first thing they saw was Mrs. Thompson, Lee’s mother.  “Oh boy,” I groaned.

She gave me a kind smile and said, “While I might expect my children to have that reaction I’m not quite sure what’s got you saying it.”

Trying to figure out what was going on I asked, “Why do I feel as addled as a pig drunk on corn mash?”

“That bad?”  a voice asked.

I turned and after blinking a couple of times I finally recognized June Ellen Darby.  I told her, “Seeing you isn’t exactly clearing things up any.”

She took my wrist and did her nursing thing and asked me, “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“There was a bear and a tree … then I was digging myself unstuck … then … then I think I got waylaid or something as I was almost back home.”

From the hallway there was a dramatic cry of, “A bear?!  A bear?!!”

I sighed and said, “I better deal with him.  He sounds like his girdle is about to cut him in half.”

“You sure Elizabella?  My son is wound up … and still doing a bit of recovering himself.”  She was smiling but I heard more than a bit of mother bear in her voice and I didn’t want to have to deal with another so soon after the first.

I told her, “I better.  Probably Lee is the only one that can straighten everything out.  Or he’ll make it worse.  Either way I just better.”

“We’ll be right outside,” she told me.  And that was another warning of sorts.

The women walked out and Lee rushed in so fast he was tripping over his own feet then turned and shut the door and turned the lock.  He nodded at the door as if to say “so there” and then turned to look at me.

Fiercely he asked, “How could you think it Bella?  How could you?”

“Lee …”

He came over to the bed then sat in the chair beside it.  “Dad told me I was must have done something but I can’t think what it was.  Do you know it was a month before I found that conflabbergasted note?!  I was already upset at being gone so long and then that noet and then all that’s happened since.  Dammit!”

“Lee Ward Thompson!!” I heard a woman squawk.

“If you weren’t listening at keyholes Shirley you wouldn’t be upset!  Go away!!”

Lee turned back to me and he was furious but all I could do is stare at him in confusion.  Hi anger turned to worry.  “Bella?”

“I … I don’t understand.  I’m … confused.  Lord my head is pounding.  Where’s Beau?  Where’s M&M?”

“The dog is making a tripping hazard of himself out in the hallway  The birds will be back directly.  They’ve got a roost in the treehouse right outside the window there though they’ve made their way into the house so often even Gram has stopped fussing about it.”

He sat holding my hand like he was afraid it was going to break.

“Rufus …”

“I know Bella.  I saw the little marker.  I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”

“She just went to sleep one night and was gone the next.  I don’t know why.”

“Don’t get upset Bella.  You know God just let’s animals off the hook of living like that sometimes.”

“Is there a third bird with M&M?”


“That’s Moonbeam … their chick.  Kinda surprised me though I don’t know precisely why it did.”

“Yeah, I bet it did.”

He held my hand a bit longer then asked, “Do you remember us Bella?”

“You got tired or I wasn’t what … I don’t know.  My head hurts.  You left.”

“I didn’t mean to stay away.  I just wanted to check on the family.”

“You left.”

“But I didn’t mean to stay gone.  I had it in my head I’d be gone a week … tops.”

“You didn’t come back.”

Hesitantly he asked, “Will you let me explain why?”

“My head is killing me Lee.”

“It’s the tail end of the concussion, being dehydrated – here take a sip of this mint water – not eating properly and who knows what else.  I should be shot … was shot … need to be shot again.”

Irritated I told him, “Stop that, you’re only making my head hurt worse with all that drama and what do you mean you were shot?”

“It’s one of the reasons … just … just let me explain it Bella.”

Chapter 28


" He had had much experience of physicians, and said "the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd druther not." – Mark Twain

I woke in a bed.  There was someone beside me.  “Easy Elizabella, I just got that thing reset properly.”

I peeled my eyes open in the overly bright room and groaned.  Where ever I was, it wasn’t my cave.  “Easy there.”

Then there was nothing for a while until I heard the pounding of running fee above me.  I then heard an old woman’s voice mutter, “I’m gonna skin those boys.”  I heard the creak of a chair and then felt the silence of an empty room.  I opened my eyes to find myself in a small, old-fashioned bedroom.  The curtains were closed on the lone window but I could still tell it was day time.  My mouth felt and tasted like the inside of a used Brillo pad.  My head had a nine-pound hammer going off inside it.  My leg thumped even worse.

The door gently pushed open and a doggie head came through followed by the rest of him.  He delicately walked over to the bed with his tail drooping until he saw me watching him.  His tail went from nearly dragging the floor to going ninety to nothing and then he started danging around.  Suddenly he plunked down, put his nose to the ceiling and aroooo’d in a great long call.

Feet pounded across the floor and then the door flew open angrily.  The man made a grab for Beau but he tripped and fell as Beau danced away.  “Doggone you mutt,” he muttered fiercely.

I tried to say, “Leave my dog alone.”  But all that came out was a nasty sounding croak.

The man shot up to his knees and crawled to the bed and nothing he said made sense.  He was gobbling so fast all I caught was a few words here and there.

“Never …”

"How could you ever …”

“ … dead!”

He was so annoying and right there in my face so I put my hand over his mouth and tried to push him away.

I realized the old woman was back when she said, “Stop pestering her Son.”

“She’s not listening!  I gotta make her understand.  It's like she can’t hear me.” 

“They can hear you all the way to Tent City.  But I doubt she is up to understanding anything yet.  That was a bad concussion and she’s been unconscious for quite some days.”

“But Gram …”

“Hush Boy.  Go send for June and tell your momma and one of your sisters to come give me a hand.  I haven’t wanted to bathe her again until I as sure she wasn’t gonna catch her death but I’m thinking she’ll feel better after a wash.  Now stop standing there with your mouth hanging open and git.”

“But … but I should be the one … and … and I need to explain …”

“You’re about hard headed and if you think being a grown man is gonna stop me from getting a switch after your legs you run and have a bit of speech with your uncles.”

I heard angry muttering but it tapered off after the man left the room.  The old woman gently began to undress me and though I knew it should have bothered me I couldn’t seem to drum up the energy to pretend it did.

“This ain’t like you at all Child.  I done put your info in the family Bible.  It surely would grieve me to have to add a funeral for one so young.  Not to mention it’d likely kill my grandson to lose you.  Now you stop worrying him to pieces and get yourself all the way back to the land of the living.  Not that I blame you for tarrying where you are at with all the pain you’ve been in.”

And as the old woman and the other two women finished undressing and bathing me, the pain was such that I was out like a light again though I suspect it was more by choice than previous times.

Chapter 27

All Fall Down

" There are no accidents, all things have a deep and calculated purpose; sometimes the methods employed by Providence seem strange and incongruous, but we have only to be patient and wait for the result: then we recognize that no others would have answered the purpose, and we are rebuked and humbled." – Mark Twain


I knew I was in trouble but I got a reprieve when the lower branches would hold the bear’s weight and broke.  Next he tried to shimmy up the trunk but the brittle bark shredded and he couldn’t get a good purchase. 

I told him, “Go away you stupid bear!  What?  You done got your pride wrapped up in this or something?!  Typical male of the species is what you are!”

Obviously I should have just kept my mouth shut.  I’d stirred Beau up and the beat too.  Cranky monster started putting his weight into pushing the trunk over like I was some termite or grub that he wanted.  And glory if I couldn’t feel it working.  What a mess that was.  Beau snarling and growling from his confinement in the sling on my back.  His weight and wigglesomeness combined with the weight of my hunting pack trying to make my balance worse as the demented and seemingly starving bear below us caused the tree to sway and make unhealthy noises to go with the growls and grunts he made. 

The tree began to lean more and more.  I knew it wouldn’t stay up much longer and I worried.  All I could do was pray it would be a controlled fall so I could jump.  Unfortunately God had other plans. 

There was a loud snap that sounded like the shotgun I wished I’d had in the first place.  I barely had time to pop the snaps on the sling and pack before my world went black. 

I came to when I smelled dog breath and felt dog kisses.  Then I heard doggie whines and I jerked the rest of the way awake.  Only I couldn’t move, I was pinned solid.  I turned my head all over looking for the monster bear only to finally spot him lumbering away towards higher ground.  He swayed and stumbled like a drunk.  I knew he must have been injured by the falling tree somehow but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t come back once he’d shaken if off.  That bear struck me as the type that had had human on the meal a time or two and come to like it. 

I knew I was injured too, I just wasn’t sure how badly.  My leg burned like fire was running up and down it.  I turned to Beau who was still dragging around the pack and checked him over.  He was upset but obviously relieved I was awake.  After Beau I reached in to the pack and pulled the small hand saw I always carried and started sawing myself loose. 

Between the sawing and digging it required, I was three or four hours getting myself loose and by the time I was finally free I was ready to puke and collapse, not necessarily in that order.  My canteen was empty and it wasn’t just my leg that hurt.  My hands were a mess from digging.  My arms felt like they were falling off from all the sawing.  My back strained from the unnatural angles I’d been contorting myself in to escape.  And my head felt like it’d been squished by a boulder. 

I examined my leg.  There was no blood.  The hurt came from deep inside my leg as well as ran up the sides.  It was like getting stung by yellow jackets both inside and out.  I had a giant goose egg on my head that was too tender to touch so I didn’t.  Beau fetched me sticks until I had a couple that worked for a splint and then a longer stick for a crutch.  Some might have preferred to make camp right there but I was still worried about another dance with the bear, so though it was late in the day Beau and I headed back home to the cave. 

Every step was a misery.  I had more pulled muscles than I could count.  I was also bumped, bruised, and scraped.  And thirsty.  When we finally got to a stream I nearly fell face firs in it but topped in time to use sense and use a filter.  Thirst sated I continued on, determined to get as close to the cave as possible. 

I was most of the way there when I just gave out without warning.  I remember trying to crawl but I don’t know how far I got.  Then the light went out. 

I heard steps and Beau growling. 

“Good dog.  Good dog,” the man said.  “Son?  Better get over here!” 

“I would but these blasted birds …” 

I couldn’t drum up the energy to tell the animals to run.  In fact I didn’t have anything left to give.  It was all gone and so was I.

Chapter 26

Bear Bait

"It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions." – Mark Twain

My conclusion?  By the skin of my teeth and only if I started preparing right away and was willing to do without the variety that I’d had the winter before.  

The problem first on the roster was what would I prepare with.  More out of habit than need I had continued to collect wild foods … some to eat and some to save.  But I hadn’t really put sufficient thought into it as my appetite was no longer what it was.  Now I was faced with a quickly shrinking set of resources to pull from.  The snow had gotten a lot of the plants at the cave’s elevation so I prayed hard that it hadn’t at the lower elevations I could safely reach.

Unlike the previous season I decided to take all the wild rice, what there was of it.  There was no water for it to propogate in so I didn’t feel guilty.  I also didn’t feel guilty about taking all of the cattails from around the no longer existing shorelines.  I did transplant a few cattails in some of the shallow water ways that remained but I wasn’t sure whether they would prosper or not.

I didn’t hesitate to take the deer and hogs I needed either.  I worked from before sun up and often until well into the night.  It didn’t bother me, it filled the hours and kept me from noticing I was only prepping for one; kept me from thinking about just how lonely those long winter days stuck in the cave were going to be and how stir crazy I just might get.

Time sped by.  September turned to October and October to a bitterly cold November.  The only reason I stopped hunting was that I couldn’t get the animals bled out before they froze.

Eventually I recognized that it was a good thing they froze because my salt supply was low and I held back what I thought was wise though not nearly what I knew that I needed and thoughts of how to get more worried the edges of my consciousness.  I saved what salt I could for curing the pork or I canned the pork the best I could.  I would grind the meat, season it, fry it up, and then layer them in jars covered with fresh lard that came from the same pig.  I canned the fresh loin only lightly seasoned.  I also tried to make the salt go further by honey curing the hams, shoulders, jowls, and bacon.  

Eventually I stuck to venison as much as I could as it can be preserved by smoking alone, the same as the fish I sometimes netted out of the newly shallow lakes.  Unfortunately fishing brought up painful memories and I usually had to give it up or fall into depression despite the need to create as much variety in my diet as possible.

When I wasn’t foraging, hunting, preserving, or messing around in the greenhouse I was chopping wood.  In fact it seemed I did more of that than all the others combined.  I didn’t have anyone to help me but the job wasn’t as hard as it could have been because I wasn’t having to fell trees to get to the wood.  All those trees that had been under the lakes for so many months were finally dried out or getting there due to the horrible wind that seemed to blow so much of the day.  It was like collecting driftwood.  I had my pick of branches.  The one danger I was running into is that the trees were shifting and falling as the ground dried up around them.  The windstorms battered the giant toothpicks and knocked them over as well.  I stayed out of the former lake basins for that reason.

But then there came a day …

Isn’t there always a “but” right before you catch yourself doing something that winds up being a double helping of stupid?

I’d been tracking a bear to make sure that it left what I considered “my” territory.  But then suddenly I realized I wasn’t tracking it anymore but that it was tracking me.  And what was worse I recognized the bear as a cranky male that had moved into the area after apparently losing its former territory when the lakes shifted.  He’d been fighting and marking the trees up hard all summer.  And he was hungry and apparently unafraid of humans.  It put me on the run.

I cut across some still muddy lake bed and even crossed small streams as I tried to get Beau and I away from the large bear.  But dang my luck; not only was the bear cranky, he was persistent.  I was in an area I didn’t know real well, down in the basin lands, when the bear spotted us and started moving at a trot.  There was no help for it as I only had a .22lr with me since I had run out of the ammo for anything bigger.

I’d been forced to do it before to get Beau and I away from a couple of particularly ornery hogs.  First time was a nightmare so I devised a dog sling.  What I did was train a reluctant Beau to get in a homemade sling and I’d climb a tree.  Lucky for me Beau was a mixed breed and not as large as your average hound dog could get.

Beau wasn’t real happy with the way things were going.  He knew what he smelled and he knew it was dangerous but he was also a different animal from the scaredy cat pup that he used to be.  He sensed the threat and acted like he wasn’t averse to protecting me.  It made him wiggly.  At least he was trained to be quiet.  These days he only called when he treed something.  Problem for his sensibilities was this time it was use that was treed.

The tree I’d picked to go up was large and sturdy.  It was more ladder than tree though as the only thing left of its gray structure were the huge trunk and broken limbs that I used as hand and foot holds.  The bear was at the base of the tree before I was as high as I wanted to get.  He prowled a couple of circles before trying to follow me.

Chapter 25


" Change is the handmaiden Nature requires to do her miracles with." – Mark Twain

 In all the time I’d been on the mountain, other lakes would do strange things but as one of the highest and smallest “my” lake hadn’t fluctuated more than a few feet on either side of what I considered normal.  But that morning, that unbelievable morning, I went down to the shore line to find there was no shore line … because there was no lake.  It had drained down to the next lower lake which while still there was also a good twenty feet lower than it had been.  The natural dam between the two had given way. 

            But I wondered if my lake had flowed into the other one and it was still twenty feet lower, where had all the water in that lake gone?  I hurried back to the cave to check on the animals.  They were tired but acting closer to normal so I secured things, grabbed a better pack, and then took a hike to New Victoria Falls which overlooked a wider area.

            Only there were no falls.  The lakes that had fed the falls had also dropped considerably.  Those lakes were still there – well sorta – but none were high enough to cause an overflow and drier weather wasn’t going to refill them any time soon.  Below the high water lines there was nothing but debris, dead tress, and drying mud for about fifty to a hundred feet or more until you got to the new water line. 

            All around I could tell the mountain animals were confused, just as confused and out of sorts as  they had been when the floods first created the lakes.  I spied a bear pacing back and forth.  I saw an old ornery razor back wallowing in the mud for just a moment before rushing out and back into higher ground for undergrowth.  I heard birds and squirrels but they seemed to have an anxious tone to their twittering and barking. 

I remembered the words I had heard so long ago, that since the lakes weren’t natural they’d eventually dry up one way or the other.  But, I hadn’t considered how dramatic a process it might be.  I felt as discombobulated as the animals.  It seemed I couldn’t count on anything remaining the same long enough for me to count on it being there tomorrow. 

It was with considerable relief that I went back to the cave by way of what I called New Spring to find its output unchanged.  At least I still had a source of water relatively close but as I got to the cave and petted the animals I worried that might change too.  And if the snow was coming so early there was no time to lose.  I needed to prepare for winter and the inevitable changes that seemed to finally arrive. 

That night, for the first time in a long time, I pulled out the inventory that Lee and I had made and kept so meticulously.  It hurt to see our handwriting intertwined and as I read it over I kept getting lost in memories and distacted from what I meant to do. 

Finally I forced the memories to stop tormenting me with their blasted what if’s.  I needed to take a realistic look to see if I could survive another winter on the mountain.