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Dear Diary, It’s Me, Jessica: Part 13

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Dear Diary,

It’s me, Jessica.

O!  M!  G(osh)!

It is HOT!

For the past four days, Mom’s thermometer outside the kitchen window has read into the mid- or upper nineties.  HAM guy’s weather station said it feels like the gauge was in the low hundreds.  Dad called it a ‘heat dome.’

I call it HOT!  Sure.  It gets hot in the summer. 

But not this hot until at least August.  

Even at night, it would only get into the mid-eighties.  The humidity was unrelenting.  

We have been sleeping in the basement, where it was thankfully cool enough to get some rest.  

We get up early to knock out as many chores that need to be done that day before the thermometer reaches into the nineties, usually by ten in the morning.

In this heat, the gardens need watering twice a day.  That is a lot of buckets of water.  Watering in the afternoon is the worst.  The chickens stay in the shade of the one bird berry bush.  They have been doing their eating only in the early morning or late evening before going back into their coop.  We noticed they have not been laying as many eggs.

Dad and I went to the Miller’s only twice.  As soon as we arrived, Mrs. Miller would make us drink two or three tall glasses of water and sit in the shade on the wrap-around porch for at least thirty minutes to cool off from the hump.

We told them of last week’s Battle of Four Corners.  They all sat in rapt attention in rocking chairs and on the bench swing as Dad and I told the story from each of our perspectives.  

Diary, I don’t know why, but I left out a number of details.  I did not want Billy to think I was some kind of . . . I dunno.  

Afterward, we watered the livestock.  The hogs require a wallow of water and mud to cool themselves.  Thankfully, Mr. Miller had Billy use the tractor to bring over a big water trough in the tractor bucket rather than us hauling five-gallon buckets to their paddock. 

At first, it was fun to watch the hogs do belly flops into the mud and roll around.  Then one hog flopped in our direction, sending mud flying.  Now, not only was I hot and sweaty, but covered in mud splatters from the waist down.  Ugh.

Mr. Miller explained in this heat, the livestock tended to cut back on forage but need more water.  He also had us water their gardens as theirs were much larger than ours, but they had more mouths to feed with not only Billy, Olive, and Daisy, but Janet, Justin, David and Charlotte.  

Mr. Miller noted that at the moment, there was nothing he could do about the corn, wheat, field peas, soybeans, oats, and buckwheat.  He did not have an irrigation system set up off of the windmill.  With the big gas-powered pump, he could easily irrigate the fields.  The windmill did not have that kind of pressure in that kind of volume.  He was worried about the use of what remaining fuel they had for irrigation or for using the fuel for harvesting in the fall.

Dad looked thoughtful for a moment and said he might be able to make something work.  Mr. Miller smiled.  

For our work that day and braving the heat, Mrs. Miller insisted we take a good-sized loaf of bread, a hunk of maple-cured ham, and a live stew chicken.  The bread would be at least a few meals, and the same with the ham.  The chicken could be two meals.  

Dad and I came home to find Mom, Jack, Rae over at Sam and Joanne’s front porch talking.  Joanne poured Dad and me iced tea.  It was more like luke warm tea, but it still was good.  

Jack was explaining he and Rae had just returned from the market.  The market had changed.  Before, it was a very loose community with a minimal degree of rules and guidelines for conducting business.  Now, they voted for a mayor to form their own militia and fixed a set of defensive lines not only to the North but also to the South and East, with the West bridge over the river already set with the barricade of overturned vehicles.  A more rigid set of rules for the conduct of not only business but of their newly forming society were put into place.  Most of the rules made sense or were ones that they had carried over from before, like keeping their word in a business deal and not putting fillers in food or food that was bad to a buyer.  But they also made prostitution a legal business.  

Diary, thinking of Savannah, I am not sure how I feel about that.

Entry Two

On our second day of working on the Miller’s farm, Dad said he had an idea of using horses as the means of power to a low-pressure, high-volume ‘soaker’ irrigation system.  Mr. Miller had the rear end of an old truck drive train with its axle.  They would set the axle vertically, the drive train on blocks of wood.  With a long length of wood attached to the axle on one end of an old truck and to the horses tack on the other, the horses would walk in a circle, providing the labor to work a pump Dad would build.  The pump would attach to where the wheel would normally be.  The water line from the windmill would fill one of the livestock water troughs, then Dad’s pump would propel water through the irrigation lines Mr. Miller had to water the crops.  

There were two problems.  

Dad and Mr. Miller did not have the parts to make the pump.  We would have to go to the market to see if Nate had the parts or knew someone who did.  If not, Dad mentioned his and Jack’s idea of making a trip to the East to the hardware store for the parts and also for Dad’s idea of building an outdoor oven.  Mr. Miller was open to both ideas.  They could strip down one of the hay wagons into a flatbed the Percheron horses could easily pull. 

The second was that there was only so much water that the pump could push to the irrigation lines.  We would have to manually move the irritation lines from one set of rows to the next.  That would be a lot of hot and sweaty work.  But there was no other way if the crops were to survive the heat.  Without the weather service, we had no idea if rain was coming today, tomorrow, or next week or how long this ‘heat dome’ would last.  The HAM guy’s weather station could only tell us about the current barometer conditions.  It was only a vague guess of what the weather would be the next day.  Even Dad’s watch, with a digital barometer sensor, was the same.  

The next day, Mr. Miller, Rae, Dad and I went to the market.  We left early in the morning, taking extra water and taking our time to make sure we would not become a ‘heat case,’ as Rae called it.  Everyone wore some kind of hat to keep the blazing sun off our heads.  Despite all of that, we still were hot and sweaty.  

At the market, things were clearly different. 

As we approached, the Eastern defensive line across the road was made of a wall of stacked logs, taller than Dad.  We were ordered to halt and show our hands.  Then we were ordered to slowly walk up, hands still in the air.  There were four narrow openings between the two top logs from which the guards could see and aim their weapons.  When they recognized Rae, Dad, and me, they relaxed and lowered their weapons.  They built a wooden gate that could be easily opened but also could be secured to the logs on their side.  Two of the guards opened the gate while the other two stood on upended logs at their stations on the wall.  

I recognized the guards who had opened the gate during previous market visits, Tom and Collins.  

“Gentlemen, I give you The Hero of the Battle of Four Corners,” Tom declared. He took off his ball cap and gave me an overexaggerated bow. The two guards on the wall clapped and cheered. Tom then straightened up and offered his fist.

“I wish people would stop calling me that.” I bumped his fist with mine.

“Well, it is true, Jessica,” Collins said and actually shook my hand.  

“Get used to it, honey,”  Rae teased. 

We walked on to find they had cleared an area fifty yards from the defensive line.  Then, two sets of stacked logs, each three feet high and about ten feet wide, formed a second defensive line if the first were to be breached.  Enough to cover four or five people behind each line but allow them to shoot at anyone if they broke through the gate.  It was something Jack would have called a ‘kill’ zone.

We came up to the Four Corners where Sean was sitting on his log, lightly strumming his banjo.  Seeing me, he changed the tune to something much more lively and sang “The Hero of the Battle of Four Corners.”  Others around joined in, clapping to the beat.

Diary, I actually face-palmed in embarrassment.

Once finished, Sean bowed to me while the crowd applauded.  I got several fist bumps and a few slaps on the back.  I sheepishly thanked everyone.  When everyone walked off back to whatever they were doing before Sean’s foot-taping, hand-clapping ballad, Rae gave me a grin and said,

“Told ya.”

I rolled my eyes.

Sean said all the vehicles and shacks on the North Side had been used for the North defensive line. Most of the business had been pulled back from the Eastern side to form the Eastern defensive line. Much of the business had shifted to the immediate area around Four Corners and to the South Side. We could find Nate there.  

As we made our way to find Nate, I saw many people still had bandages, splints, bruises.  Others limped.  There were the few missing limbs.  

Diary, technically, Jack and I got blown up.  We were close enough to get knocked down and out but not enough for any serious, lasting injuries.  I think we were the lucky ones.  

We found Nate set up in his new location, sitting on a camp chair with a fold-out table outside of a well-worn RV.  As an engineer, he had been put in charge of constructing the new defensive lines.  He stood up and shook Mr. Miller and Dad’s hand and then looked to me and merely said, “Thank you.”

I nodded in acknowledgment and smiled.  As Rae said, I need to get used to it.  

Nate and Dad then proceeded to geek out in engineer-speak about the defensive lines and proposed projects like a water-powered saw mill and a grain mill down on the river by the old boat launch.  Mr. Miller listened on, while Rae and I went to walk about the market.  

With the heat, no one was cooking food for trade.  With the growing season well underway, there were a lot of vegetables and fruit.  The couple with the barber and shave shop had set up again in a new shack.   A few customers were waiting in line.  Rae said she would kill for a mani and petti.  I have never had either, so I wasn’t sure what the draw was.  One woman was trading woven baskets.  Another had tanned leather clothing and knitted socks.  A couple had eggs and dried pasta.  One man had apple hard cider in large glass bottles with corks.  He had several other men looking to trade with him.

Savannah was talking to one of them.  When she saw us, she stopped, ran up, and actually hugged me.  

I shocked myself and gave her a one-armed hug back, my other hand still on my rifle to keep it from falling off my shoulder.  We may not have been friends in high school, but she still was a connection back to the time before the power went out.  

Savannah told me during the battle, she helped with the wounded and dead.  She was helping Daniel, the paramedic, with those who still needed medical attention.  Daniel was kind of the four corners doctor, and she was his ‘kind of’ nurse.  She said she was learning a lot about medical stuff.  And she was getting paid for it.  She no longer had to pimp herself out.  

I shocked myself and gave her a full two-armed hug when I heard that news. She laughed and hugged me back. She then had to go, as she and Daniel would be doing morning rounds.

As Savannah walked off, Rae said to me, “That was very kind of you.”

“She should not have to do that kind of thing.  No one should.”

From the first time I came to the market, it seemed the South Side was busier than the North Side had been. Rae said that after the battle, nearly all of North Side was now at South Side. A number of the people from the market had died. It only seemed busier because they had concentrated here, but there were actually fewer people.  

Diary, that realization made me feel sad.

After about an hour, Rae and I returned to Nate’s RV.  They were just finishing up trading for parts.  Dad said Nate had most of the parts but he would still have to make the trip East to the hardware store to see if they could find the rest.  Mr. Miller said when he got home, he and Billy would strip the hay wagon and could make the trip tomorrow.  Nate asked if he could come on the trip.  Mr. Miller said it was okay.  Everyone would meet up at our house early tomorrow morning.  

Entry Three

It was about six in the morning when everyone showed up.  Mom’s thermometer read seventy-nine, which is the lowest it had been in days.  Dad’s digital barometer on his watch was falling.  The sky was overcast with dark clouds, suggesting rain.  Rain would be welcomed.  But the air was still thick and sticky and humid.

Mr. Miller and Justin were on their own horses with their rifles and saddle bags of dried food, water for them, and water for their horses.  Billy had his rifle over his shoulder and was driving the Percherons and the flatbed wagon.  There were two five-gallon buckets of water for the horses and one bucket of feed.  Jack, Rae, Nate, Dad and I would ride on the wagon with our rifles and backpacks of food and water.  As we headed out, I could not help but feel exposed sitting on the wagon with no cover.

Mr. Miller and Justin rode out front about thirty yards, looking for possible trouble. Everyone was nervous as we kept looking into the woods and fields on either side of the road. It seemed like even the horses sensed it. Since the power went out, none of us had come out this direction. Oddly, it was vaguely familiar and strange at the same time. 

We passed a number of homes and farms, but none had any sign of people around.  All the lawns were overgrown.  A pack of dogs of various breeds saw us and ran away into the woods.  In the distance, on a hillside, we saw a herd of cattle grazing.  

It was a tense two hours before we reached the small town.  Everyone had their rifles ready except Billy, who needed both hands to manage the Percheron team.  The town seemed abandoned.  No signs of life.  There were no cars on the main street or even side streets.  Some cars in front of some homes, but not many.  A few of the stores appeared to have been looted.  We rode up to the hardware store parking lot and stopped.  The front and inner set of plate glass sliding doors were both smashed.  There was a line of Zero-Turn mowers to the one side of the doors.  It looked like someone cut the security cable to steal one.  Mr. Miller told Billy to water and feed the horses.  He asked Rae and I to tend to his and Justin’s horses.  Jack, Mr. Miller, Justin, and Dad would search and clear the hardware store.  Nate was to keep a lookout.  Shortly after they entered the store, the wind shifted, and the temperature dropped suddenly.  The overcast clouds were pushed aside as a line of dull gray to inky black clouds rolled in before the wind.  I could smell rain in the air.  

Billy said.  “This is going to suck.”

None of us had brought rain gear.

The trees along the sidewalks of the main street and in front of homes were swaying back and forth with the wind almost violently.  The wind was actually cold, chilling the sweat on my skin.   Thunder rumbled in the distance.  

Billy suggested we pull the horses and wagon around back to see if there was a freight overhang over the loading docks we could use as shelter. He was right. Billy pulled the Percheron team and wagon in, and Rae and I led the other two horses in just as big, fat rain drops began to fall. Lighting spiked and flashed in the darkened sky, and the time between the flash and thunder grew shorter as the storm grew closer.  

About ten minutes had passed when one of the big metal roll up loading dock doors rolled up.  Jack, Justin, and Dad were bringing out and stacking heavy sacks of concrete mix on the loading dock.  Mr. Miller was bringing out boxes from inside the store.  He had to shout to be heard over the din of rain on the metal roof for Billy and Nate to lend a hand.  

Then something changed.  The air suddenly had a new, almost electrical feel to it.  The sound on the metal roof changed too.  I looked out into the loading area, and the downpour of rain was now hail.  Golf ball sized.  

Mr. Miller shouted, “Tornado!”

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.


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