Vengeance: A Post-Apocalyptic, EMP-Survival Thriller (Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt Book 4), page 1
Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt:
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Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
To the real JC, your friendship is one of my greatest treasures.
Thanks to my beautiful bride, best friend, and editor-in-chief, Catherine Goodwin. I would also like to thank the rest of my fantastic editing team, Ken and Jen Elswick, Jeff Markland, Frank Shackleford, Sherrill Hesler, Kris Van Wagenen, Janet Mullins, Paul Davison, and Claudine Allison.
Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.
Danny ducked behind the large oak tree on the back side of the barn. Shotgun pellets peppered the trunk of the giant oak, sending bits of wood and bark flying past him. He winced with apprehension as he peeked out from his cover. He fired three shots with his AK-47 in the direction of the fleeing intruders. The moonlight revealed three shadowy figures with dark hooded sweatshirts. The raiders took turns returning fire and sprinting to the tree line at the back of Miss Jennie’s property. A gloomy specter carrying a shotgun retreated while another fired a large black semi-automatic pistol at Danny.
Danny waited for the volley of fire to cease. He dropped to the ground, reducing his profile, and shot back from a prone position. The murky silhouettes disappeared into the woods. Danny let his rifle drop to the side and let out a deep breath.
Jack limped over to Danny’s location. “Should we go after them?”
Danny stood up. He brushed off his chest and legs. “No. Even with the full moon, we’d never find them in the woods at night. And worst case scenario, they could be lying in wait to ambush us. Besides, you’re not even supposed to be walking, much less chasing hostiles through the forest.”
“It’s been eight weeks. My leg is fine.”
Danny smirked. “Yeah, I could tell by the way you came hobbling over here.”
Jack leaned against the tree and rested his bad leg. “No. Seriously, I’m fine. It’s just weak from atrophy. I’ve got to get back in shape.”
Chris came running from his trailer, AR-15 in hand. “What happened?”
“Raiders,” Danny replied. “They came up the creek from the back of the property.”
Antoine was next to arrive. He also carried an AR-15, which looked like a toy in contrast to the giant of a man holding it. “Did they get anything?”
“They were after the chickens. I saw one of the bandits with what looked like a pillow case. I’m guessing he had a couple in there.” Danny slung his rifle over his shoulder. “The coop is probably still open. We better go close it.”
Gwen’s trailer was closest to the back of the barn. She came out wearing a robe and boots. Like everyone else, she held a battle rifle at a low-ready position. “Is everybody okay?”
“Yeah. We’re okay,” Jack answered.
“Poor baby! You shouldn’t be on your leg.” Gwen put her arm around Jack. “Come lie down on my couch, and let me take a look at it.”
“Yeah, maybe I better.” Jack put some of his weight on Gwen’s arm and limped toward her trailer.
Danny’s brows snapped together like a mouse trap. He put his arm around Jack from the other side, scooping him out of her grasp. “I’ll go ahead and get Jack back to his trailer. But, thanks for the offer.”
“Oh, okay.” Gwen gently let go of Jack as Danny turned him around. “Good night, Jack.”
Jack’s smile slipped. “Thanks anyway. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Danny glanced over at Antoine. “Can you close the chicken coop? I’ve got to help Jack walk home.”
“Sure thing, Danny. I’m up next for guard duty. You can go ahead and turn in. I’m not going back to sleep after all this excitement.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer. Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. See you tomorrow.” The big man waved.
Jack took his arm off of Danny. “My leg is good now. I can walk on my own.”
“Wow! If it wasn’t the middle of June, I’d say it’s a Christmas miracle!” Danny feigned a look of surprise.
Jack fought back a grin and blushed. “I was just going to sit down for a minute. I’d have been gone long before Miss Jennie woke up.”
“I’m not worried about Miss Jennie catching you.”
“Nothing was going to happen.”
Danny snapped his fingers and pointed at Jack. “And that’s your biggest problem.”
“You overestimate your self-control.”
“Gwen is a Christian. She’s not going to let it go too far.”
Danny grunted at Jack’s delusion. “And that’s your second biggest problem.”
“I overestimate her self-control?”
“Exactly. You think you can control the speed of the sled once it’s already headed down the snowy hill. Or maybe I should say, the slippery slope. Plus, all kinds of things happen with your hormones after a critical incident like we just had. You’ve been shooting at people and being shot at. Your testosterone is pumping on overdrive. You were watching over the farm while Gwen was sleeping, so she’ll see you as a hero. Being alone in her trailer is not a recipe for nothing happening on a normal night, much less right now.”
Jack grimaced. “Thanks.”
“I’m just looking out for you. If it’s the real thing, you two have the rest of your lives to be together. But, for now, honor God with your actions so he can bless you. Lord knows we need all the blessings we can get right now.”
Jack sighed deeply. “You’re right, Danny. My dad would say the same thing if he were here.”
Danny put his hand on Jack’s shoulder as he walked up the stairs of his trailer. “I know he would.”
“Good night.” Jack closed the trailer door.
“Puddin’!” Dana’s voice came from the other side of the house.
Danny walked wearily toward the back porch.
“The cat must have gotten out of the house,” Danny mumbled to himself. “She’s roped Antoine into helping her look for it. Better him than me.”
“Hey! Are you alright?” Alisa’s voice startled Danny as she darted out the back door.
“Yeah. Bandits made off with a couple chickens. Two people on watch can’t keep an eye on the whole compound. But, there’s just too much to do. We can’t afford to put anyone else on night watch.”
“The noise frightened Puddin’. She got out of the house,” Alisa said.
“Yeah, I figured. She’ll be back when she gets hungry.”
“I know, but Dana is worried. Will you help us look for the cat?”
“No. I’m going to bed.”
“Danny,” Alisa pleaded.
“What? We can’t be wandering around in the woods at night looking for a cat that doesn’t want to be found. Those raiders could still be out there. It’s not safe, and it’s totally pointless.”
She batted her eyelashes. “If it wasn’t Dana, I’d agree with you a hundred percent. But, with Steven being gone, that cat is all she has in this world. Puddin’ has kept her from going catatonic like Pauline. Have some compassion, won’t you?”
Danny groaned, signaling his displeasure and exhaustion. “Let’s go. I guess the sympathy card always trumps reason.”
“Thank you, Danny. I’ll make it up to you.” She kissed him and led the way on their search.
“Did you see which way Puddin’ ran?”
“No. Dana and Antoine are looking down by the creek. I guess we should go the other way.”
Danny switched on the flashlight clamped to the barrel of his AK and scanned the courtyard. “She’s probably hiding under one of the trailers.” Danny lowered the rifle and hit the quick release lever of the universal barrel mount, removing the flashlight. He slung the AK across his back and knelt down to look beneath Jack’s trailer. Next, he walked around the back of the trailer and checked the other side. “Not here.”
“Check under Melissa’s trailer.” Alisa pointed to the wheel well.
Danny walked over and shined his light beneath the large fifth wheel camper. “Don’t see her under here either.”
The two of them continued searching under each trailer between the house and the barn but found nothing.
“Maybe she’s under one of the vehicles” Alisa stood with her hands on her hips.
Danny was ready to give up. He’d already expended more effort into this fruitless venture than originally intended. “Okay. We’ll look, but after that, we’re going inside.”
Danny crawled around each of the vehicles, peering beneath them. He spotted what looked like a tuft of soft yellow fur sticking out from the engine compartment of the tan Humvee. He quietly got up and whispered to Alisa. “I think she’s under the hood of the Hummer. I’ll crawl underneath, and you open the hood. She has to come out one direction or the other.”
Alisa nodded and waited for Danny to get into position.
Danny removed the rifle from over his shoulder and gradually worked himself under the front of the vehicle with stealth. As soon as Alisa began releasing the side latches on the hood of the Humvee, Puddin’ made her move to escape. When she did, Danny grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. She protested but didn’t fight or scratch him. He rolled out from under the vehicle and stood up. Danny petted the frightened animal gently. “Shhhh. It’s okay. Everybody is safe.” He loved the cat as much as anyone else on the farm; as much as anyone, except Dana, that is.
“You got her! Danny, you’re a hero.” Alisa picked up his AK-47, which he had placed against the Hummer and followed him to the house. “Take Puddin’ inside, and I’ll tell Dana you found her.”
Danny carried the long-haired cat through the door of the back porch then took a seat at the dining room table.
Miss Jennie walked into the room in her house coat. “Y’all are makin’ an awful lot of racket. It sounded like World War Three. What in the devil was goin’ on out there?”
“Burglars snuck up the creek and got into the chicken coop. They took two hens and got away. You can go back to bed, Nana. Everything is okay.”
“The sun’ll be up directly. Ain’t no point goin’ back to bed now.” Miss Jennie walked into the kitchen and began making coffee.
Danny gritted his teeth. Now that Miss Jennie was up, the odds of him going to sleep were slim.
“Puddin’! You found her!” Dana walked in the back door with Alisa right behind her. “Thank you so much!”
Danny handed her the cat. “No trouble at all.”
“I’m silly to be so worried, but . . .” Dana’s voice trailed off and her eyes welled up.
Alisa put her arm around Dana and pulled her close. “You’ve got us, too. We love you. We’re all family, okay?”
Dana dried her eyes on Puddin’s fur and nodded. “Thanks. I’m going to head back to bed.”
“Sweet dreams.” Alisa kissed her forehead then turned to Danny. “What about you? Are you ready to go to sleep?”
Danny shifted his eyes from the direction of the noise in the kitchen to Alisa. He huffed. “I guess I’ll try.”
“Good night, Nana.” Alisa began climbing the stairs.
Miss Jennie called back, “Good night? It’s nearly mornin’!”
“Okay, see you later then.” Alisa winked at Danny, who had turned to see her response.
Once he reached the bedroom, Danny undressed and got into bed. He covered his head with the pillow.
“Do you want some earplugs?” Alisa offered.
“Please.” He peeked out from beneath the pillow.
Alisa opened the tool box where they kept their gun maintenance and shooting supplies. “We should ask Jack to move in with Chris so we can have that little trailer.”
Danny took the ear plugs. “Chris is angry. It’s not good for Jack to be around him all the time.”
“Maybe Jack being there would help Chris. You know, looking after his little brother would give him something to focus on besides his anger.”
Danny shook his head. “No one can help Chris except Chris. He’s got to let go. He blames himself for Clay’s death, and he blames everyone else for JC.”
Alisa rolled her eyes. “That’s a bad predicament to be in, being mad at yourself and everyone else. It doesn’t leave you a lot of options for agreeable company.”
Danny smirked. “No, it doesn’t. And he’s toxic for Jack. Jack is trying to move on, but it’s hard when his big brother is constantly reminding him that his dad is dead and all of us are to blame.”
“So Chris has accepted that JC is dead?”
Danny sat back up. “It’s been two months. There’s no denying it. But, acceptance isn’t the best terminology for Chris.” He paused to lie back down and pulled the blanket over his shoulder. He closed his eyes and made a conscious effort to block out the noise of Nana banging around in the kitchen below. “Vengeance; that’s the word I’d use to define Chris.”
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Despite the sounds of all the busyness downstairs, Danny still managed to get roughly six hours of sleep. He woke up after eleven in the morning, got dressed, and made his way to the kitchen.
Miss Jennie rinsed a plate in a shallow dishpan and dried it with an old towel. “I saved you some oatmeal and pancakes. They’re waitin’ for you on the table. The coals in the fire pit are still hot if you want to make some coffee and scramble an egg.”
Danny gave her a kiss. “Thanks, Nana.” He put a scoop of coffee grounds into the enamel percolator and took it outside to the hand pump. Danny tried to pump with one hand and hold the coffee pot to catch the water with the other.
“Need some help?” Ten-year-old Jason Reese walked u
“Yeah, thanks. You hold the pot; I’ll pump.” Danny handed the pot to the young boy. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”
Jason crinkled his nose. “It’s Saturday.”
“Oh, I guess all the days sort of run together.” Danny took the coffee pot back and set it on the grate above the coals.
Jason brought a few twigs from the kindling wood pile and stuck them in the hot coals of the fire pit. “Besides, I don’t learn much anyway. Mom has to teach us stuff that Kalie can understand, and she’s only seven. Next year Emma will be four, so Mom will start teaching her also. I guess it will be even worse.”
“Annie Castell will be old enough to start school soon. Maybe Melissa will teach the little girls. You have to be patient with your sister. She’ll catch up. What do you know about fishing?”
“Everything! My dad taught me to fish. I wish he was still here.” Jason kicked a stray stick into the fire pit.
Danny put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “Did you bring your fishing poles when you moved to Miss Jennie’s?”
“Yeah, but we can’t leave the compound, and there’s no fish big enough to catch in the creek.”
“Let me check with Antoine. If he’ll come along for security, maybe the three of us can go over to JC’s pond. If we go, we’ll have to be quiet. I have to work on my Bible study for tomorrow. I completely forgot that today was Saturday.”
Jason’s eyes lit up. “That’s okay. We don’t want to scare the fishes anyway. I’ll go ask my mom.” He hurried to the trailer where he lived with Tracey Reese and his two younger sisters.
Danny scrambled two eggs over the coals while he waited for his coffee to brew. He took everything inside and ate his breakfast at the table.
MARK GOODWIN SERIES:
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