Monday, February 10, 2020

Queen of the Cats 13. Of Observation and Arrivals

By the end of the night, Danny and Jason had found seven herds of the dead and twenty two men and women equipped as a rag tag militia. Well, not so rag-tag considering the number of guns and amount of ammunition they were toting along.

Only Daniel had a near run-in as a loose rock dropped out from under his foot and threatened to tumble him into a pit full of the dead. When the guards came to check out the noise, he had somehow managed to spider climb inside the overhanging roots of an ancient oak and hang there, silent and motionless. For half an hour, with gunmen above and hungry corpses below, he mentally recited his favorite speeches and monologues from Shakespeare to Dune, trying not to think of the pain gathering in his back and shoulder. By the time the militia boys had wandered back to their beers, Danny had silently slipped out of his hiding place and slithered back up to the leafy forest floor. He memorized all of their faces so he could be sure to personally terminate them in repayment for his pain and suffering. He was too old for this tree-dangling superhero crap.

He took counts on the herd then swiped a can of gas and box of ammo from the militia truck. He applied the contents of both quite liberally to the milling dead in the hollow, watching the gas soak into their clothing and the dry leaves below them. He really did admire how well their shuffling steps camouflaged the dumped rounds of ammo under the leaf litter. That, Danny thought with a grin, would be super fun for those assholes in camo to find.

Danny transmitted his intel by radio and made it back to the barn just behind Jason. Yep, he'd hear about that for at least a day. Back at the big table, everyone had gone quiet waiting for them.

     "So, seven herds?" Nix asked.
     "And 22 bad guys. Plus whoever shows up pretending to be selling produce for the Day family." Jason finished.
     "Well, shit." Nix groaned.
     "Yeah. Pretty much. But I have some really hilarious ideas" Danny tried to grin but grimaced while rolling his shoulder.
     "Oh? Enlighten me, brother" Jason smirked at his brother and slipped him a pill and glass of water.
     "Well, how many pressure plates do you think we can make in a day, rig to explosives and then bury under the cover of darkness right in front of militia idiots and hungry, hungry corpses?" Danny asked, swallowing back the pill and some additional offered naproxen.
     "Hmmm, at least seven. Eight or nine if we play some Norwegian death metal while we work." Jason nodded sagely.
     "Danny, can you do this with a reasonable chance of not killing you and your brother? I really don't want to have to keep up the house by myself." the General asked in a firm but not unkind voice. It was clear that he was a bit concerned.
     "Solid 70/30 odds, sir. Are you good without either of us being here? We are going to need to work at the house and well... deliver the pizzas directly to the kids" Danny answered, motioning his chin in the direction of the forest.
     "Hey Nix, save us some Applejack. We're going to earn it" Jason grinned.
     "Try not to die. Again." The General shook the hand of each son and exchanged some quiet words.
     "Just a head's up, we're going to take a roll by the Day farm on the way home. If it looks like any of the ladies are being held as captives we'll be doing a bit of captor extermination and hostage extraction." Jason's arms were folded across his chest. He was no longer smiling.
     "We have a bigger problem here, son..."
     "Dad, this isn't a negotiation." Danny cut in. "We'll take the ladies back to the compound and set them up in the bunk house and infirmary. We're not leaving them there a minute longer than necessary. They are good women, good girls, good neighbors and we aren't monsters." Danny finished and nodded to his brother. The General nodded to both. The guys headed for the truck then the General turned back to the gathered group. "Time to get back to work."

Once the good times special forces lads were gone, the setup for market day began in earnest. Outside, stalls were being staked out and canvas hung while trucks and carts were backed into place. Inside the barn, a 15 foot walkway had been marked out with rope, keeping a clear lane around the interior perimeter of the barn. Family and single sized sleep spaces were marked out and some were claimed by the early and vigilant arrivals. Members of the council were carefully spaced around the barn so that there weren't any dark corners left un-watched.

Stalls for horses and livestock were setup beneath the great hayloft and some solar powered lights were hung from the underside of the loft to illuminate this darkest area of the barn. A few stalls were taken up by teen boys who would make a little money by turning the stalls and doing feed and water runs. The barn had been set up so no one had direct access to the walls where they could be unobserved and the darkest sections of the space had been reworked with lights and young eyes to keep watch. It was the best they would be able to do on the short notice of 24 hours.

With that setup complete they didn't have to wait long for more excitement. Within a few hours two interesting things occurred. First, a small army of tired cats arrived, many carrying small bags and packets in their mouths. The odd parade of black and calico and tabby was led by Sampson and they ignored all manner of beasts and people, instead they just walked inside the barn, found Nix and followed her to her family size reserved space. The four walls had been hung with canvas from the partition rope above and James had helped her find some extra lumber to construct cat benches along the sides of the allotted area. The wagon had been cleared out for Nix to sleep in, her sale goods were stacked underneath and low, wide benches were covered in fresh straw onto which the cats hopped and settled down. Nix collected all of their small packages, kissed Sampson all over his face, and placed him in her own bed to sleep. Garibaldi climbed into the wagon and laid down in a guard position in front of his best friend. Sampson's sleep would not be disturbed.

About two hours later, the huge produce wagon from the Day farm came rolling up the track with a team of four massive warm blood horses pulling the heavy load where usually six were used. The harness and traces were jumbled and poorly strapped in places. The horses were sweat soaked and foaming, clearly having done more work than was meant for them. The members of the council looked askance at each other, each hating to see their awful predictions coming true. Nix felt like a stone had been placed in her heart so that it stuttered in its beating. James and other young men ran up to unhitch the horse team quickly. The horses badly needed water and to be cooled down and calmed down. Their wide rolling eyes began to settle under the hands of people familiar with horses and they allowed themselves to be lead away into the barn. As he passed, James gave Nix a long, meaningful look. He did not suffer well the abuse of animals.

Three people sat on the front bench of the wagon and had not helped a bit with unhitching. Now, with the work done, they began to gather their belongings and descend from the wagon. One man and two women stepped down and beamed their smiles at the gathered crowd. Not a single one of them was a member of the Day family.

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