Ash Land Ch 6

From the tower overlooking the main gate into the farm, Matt and his .30-06 deer rifle followed closely the approaching group. The group consisted of 3 individuals, one male and two females, the youngest looked barely in her teens. The people approaching the farm were in much worse shape than those inside the fence, they were all covered in a layer of ash and dirt. The group looked like they had not eaten in days or longer. With sunken cheeks and dark circles around their eyes they looked more like walking skeletons near the brink of starvation, than humans.

His cross hairs squared firmly on the man’s chest as he felt the man was potentially the only threat. Matt had already decided his plan of action if things went south, clicking off the safety and a fresh round waiting in the chamber. Three shots three kills.

“What’s your business here?” Frank demanded from behind the chain link fence.

“We are hungry, we just need a little for to hold us over,” said the man.

“That’s not my problem.” From the old farm house near the gate Martha saw the commotion and came out to see what was going on. Frank had built when he returned from the war and was still in great shape despite the past few years’ events. Still it needed a few repairs but those were going to have to wait.

She yelled in her screeching voice, “Frank what’s going on?”

“Nothing Martha,” responds Frank.

“Now you listen to me Frank, you give those people some water and we can spare a little food.” Frank looks at the ground and kicks some dust with his boots knowing full well who was going to win this argument before it began. “Fine,” he said reluctantly. He opened the gate and let the people enter the compound. The group has no less than 4 loaded guns aimed at them at all times. They get their water and a little beef and some almost rotten cabbage. The family ate their meal within seconds under the watchful eyes of Lola who was making sure they did not drop anything on the ground. There was no time for manners.

When they finished devouring their food the group stared blankly at each other for a brief second before the man spoke. “Can we stay on the farm and work? I promise that we can help and are willing to do whatever you asked.” He pointed at Frank.

“No,” Frank says sternly. “You and your family should be getting along now, we don’t have any room for anyone else.”

The man was begging now with black tears rolling down his dirty face, “Please sir we have nothing and nowhere else to go. We are starving!”

“I said no son,” Frank was now getting agitated and hated repeating himself. He upholstered his 1911 from his hip and fired a round at the man’s feet, the round made a small indention in the soil spraying a small amount of dirt near the man’s tattered shoes. Lola was up from her seated position her ears up and focused on the family. Her chest was puffed out and front legs spread wide making her appear bigger than she was. “It’s best you leave son.” The man crying gathered himself and his family and slowly exited the main gate defeated, it was quickly shut and locked behind them. Lola felt she had protected her family and her territory went about her business tail wagging. Matt’s rifle followed the group until they had cleared the ridge and were no longer in sight of his scope.

“We can’t feed everyone Martha.”

“I know Frank it was just a little food, we’ll be okay. I will eat less tonight at dinner.” She gave a warm smile to her husband as he gently placed his arm around her.

After the commotion everyone got back to their chores and work for the day. Jim still had to go down to the spring and fill up some buckets with fresh water. The spring had been running for as long as Jim could remember and it was always cold and fresh. Jim never imagined that that spring would be the life blood of the farm someday, without it they would all die in a matter of days. All the water in the surrounding areas had turned into a black sludge from the ash, killing anything living in the water not to mention anything that drank from it.

After that he had to check on the chickens and gather any eggs they had laid. There were 15 chickens on the farm he had to watch over. They had always had trouble with foxes and raccoons getting their chickens in the past, but after the eruption that had not had that problem. Jim suspected that there probably were not any left out there, much less anything else. After that he had to make sure their 40 head of cattle had enough water for the day. This is where most of their meat came from and an occasional chicken.

Butchering a cow was hard work but worth it as the family could have meat for a few weeks. Almost all of the power for their generators went to power a freezer to keep the meet fresh as long as possible. They had to ration it out as best as they could. Every now and again Matt or one of the other family members would kill a deer and that would provide some extra meat, but that was a rare treat. Matt did not know if there were many of those left either so killing one was always bittersweet. Killing any wild animal now could very well mean the extinction of the species.

The women mostly tended the garden and they had it down to an exact science. Everything was planned out to projection, from when things were planted and what crops were planted next to each other. The manure from the cattle and chickens helped fertilize the crops. Each season the garden was moved so as not to deplete the soil in one place, it was a very valuable commodity these days. Among other things there was always constant battle to keep the cows out of the garden, the damage they could do in a matter of minutes could last all winter. The garden consisted of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, corn, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, green beans, cucumbers, and beets. Jim absolutely hated beets, and secretly tried to sabotage the crop every year, but it was to no avail. Sometimes life had an unbelievable will to survive.

The setting sun in the surrounding mountains began to cast long shadows in the forest. High up in those mountains a band of Wanderers, as they were known, gathered waiting on one of their own. Rustling in the forest alerted them and they stood ready to defend what little they had. Most pointed weapons with little or no ammunition in the direction of the approaching person. They all breathed a sigh of relief as the individual came into view. It was one of their own members who just returned from his mission, he had urgent news to tell Father.

Father Elijah was a former Pentecostal preacher who was from Northern Georgia in the heart of the Bible Belt. He was a born salesman in the wrong profession, or the right one depending on how you looked at it. His sliver tongue had been swindling people out of their money for years before the eruption, in exchange for the belief that they were going to be saved. After he had to refine his tactics but with the same goals still in mind, ultimately to pray on the weak minded. When the news broke of the eruption he gathered up all his important belongings and went into the woods, knowing a new clientele was in need of “saving.” In times of desperation faith was just as powerful a weapon as any. In the past two years his ban and himself had been raping and pillaging anything they had come across. He was able to accumulate a large following using his powerful voice and persuasion to pray on those who were desperate, and in this day everyone was desperate. Always proclaiming they were doing God’s work, that was very important to make that clear. Faith, in this time was a weapon of mass destruction that he had mastered.

Despite the unquestioned loyalty of his band, their scavenging had been less and less successful. Elijah was starting to become worried about his members overthrowing him, although he would never show or admit it. Ever strong and vigilant he could sense they were near the breaking point. Long ago Elijah had kept them pushing on promising soon they would have their reward, luck was certainly on his side.

“Yes Brother Joseph what have you found?” Joseph who had been spying on the farm for about 2 days was out of breath and so excited to tell Father Elijah what he had found that he could hardly speak. Panting hard in-between each word, and in a southern drawl he spit out the words as fast as he could.

“There is a farm not too far from here, they have food fresh water and all the supplies you can think of.”

“Very good, very good indeed. You did good brother Joseph,” Elija said in his raspy voice that was the result of years of smoking. What he would do for a cigarette now.

Joseph smiled his crooked smile showing his black and yellow teeth the result of two years of neglect. The clever mind of Elijah was already scheming how this could bring them all together and save his suffering congregation. The pending coup would now be postponed.   

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