This chapter is part of the Preppers on the Run Series. You can read the rest of the chapters here:
Chapter 2: [currently reading]
—It was nearly Noon according to her mechanical wristwatch. It was mid-July and the Georgia heat was in full force. Sandra could see that Robbie was beginning to lag behind even though he hadn’t complained at all in the last two hours or so of walking. They’d been lucky thus far and hadn’t run across anyone else trying to use the tracks as a bug out route. “Let’s find a place in the shade to stop and have some lunch.” Sandra called out to the kids over her shoulder.
“Sounds great mom!” Susie had been her chipper self and had kept up with Sandra and Robbie like a trooper as they trudged along.
“Yeah I could eat.” Robbie’s voice was low and Sandra could tell he was in pain again. She wanted to check his leg again to gauge the difference in swelling with all the walking he’d been doing. Sandra knew their bottles of water were almost empty. Once those were gone, they’d have to use their Sawyer Mini personal water filters to get fresh water to drink over the next couple days.
“Let’s try here” Sandra pointed to a faint path that went off to the right side of the railroad tracks. She stepped off the railroad tracks onto the faint path. It appeared to be an animal trail rather than one used by people. Sandra hope it would lead near the large pond that she’d noticed on her map when she had scouted the tracks as an alternative bug out route.
Sandra could hear Susie and Robbie talking quietly as they followed her down the path. She used her hatchet to swipe down a couple of tree limbs and vines that hung over the path so Robbie would have an easier walk. She hated to possibly alert others to human presence but making things easier for Robbie was a priority right now.
Sure enough after just about ten minutes of walking, the path ended at the edge of a large pond. “Yay!” Susie darted around Robbie and her mother as she ran ahead to the water’s edge. “Can I get wet, mom, please?”
“I guess so Susie but take your shoes and socks off first. And just wade near the edge, okay?” Susie nodded and flashed Sandra a quick grin before bending to remove her shoes and socks.
Robbie gingerly perched atop a large boulder next to the pond. “Thanks mom, I needed a rest.” He said gratefully.
“I know son. It’s okay. By the time we wash up a bit, fill our water bottles and eat something, it will be okay for you to take some more Ibuprofen for the pain.” Robbie nodded and closed his eyes. Sandra stepped up beside him.
“I’m just going to check the swelling on that leg.” Robbie nodded but kept his eyes closed. Sandra carefully checked his leg, and was relieved to see that although it was still swollen, it wasn’t any worse after all the walking they had done this morning. “I wish we had time for you to rest this leg, that’s what it needs.”
“I’m okay, mom. Really. It hurts but I can manage.” Robbie turned to watch his sister playing at the water’s edge. “How long do you really think it will take us to get to the cabin, mom?” Robbie asked quietly.
Sandra sighed. She’d hoped to avoid that question for a little while longer. “Probably a couple weeks, Robbie. Not having the car is really going to slow us down.”
“And my stupid leg.” Robbie muttered.
“Hey now, you’re doing great. It’s not broken and walking isn’t causing more swelling, so the pain should start to ease up soon. I really think it’s just a bad bruise from the fall.” Robbie nodded but didn’t look convinced. “Watch your sister and you guys eat and fill the water bottles, while I go see if there’s anything useful in the woods nearby?”
“Sure mom. I can handle that, no problem.” Robbie sat up a little taller as if glad to have a job to do.
“Great. Thanks. I won’t be too long, yell if you need me. Don’t forget to use the Sawyer filters on the water, okay?” Sandra waited for Robbie to nod in agreement and then she headed back toward the faint path that they had followed from the railroad tracks. She had caught a glimpse of a berry bush on the way through and hoped she could pick enough to supplement their dried food. Sandra glanced back at the kids before stepping back into the forest. Robbie had moved to stand near Susie and he was “supervising” as she filled the water bottles using the filter.
Ten minutes later, Sandra stepped out of the woods back into the clearing. She’d been able to pick quite a few blackberries and even some red raspberries for variety. Robbie was once again leaning against the large rock, chewing some jerky and Susie was sitting near him eating some of the dried apples Sandra had packed. As Sandra walked toward the kids, Robbie looked up and waved.
Sandra’s heart stopped. On the other side of the pond, almost directly across from where Robbie and Susie were sitting she could see shadows at the edge of the woods. Strangers. They could step out of the woods into the clearing at any moment. “I can’t let them see us.” Sandra whispered to herself. She motioned frantically to Robbie, not daring to call out to him. Thank God he was watching her.
After a few moments of frantic gestures, Robbie seemed to finally understand. He glanced across the pond, then leaned down and whispered something to Susie who quickly shoved her fruit and the water bottles into her bag and put it back onto her shoulders. Susie started crawling on her hands and knees through the grass and weeds toward Sandra. Robbie reached down slowly and picked up his bag and slid his arms back into the straps. He was watching the other side of the pond carefully as he began to move backwards towards Sandra.
Sandra’s eyes darted back and forth from Susie crawling toward her in the grass to the other side of the pond. “Please God, don’t let them see us.” Susie was almost to her now and she saw Robbie spin around and start walking faster toward her. Sandra motioned to him to keep coming, her eyes glued on the woods at the other side of the pond. She hadn’t seen any movement since the kids started moving. She was hoping the people in the woods had gone the other way.
Susie reached her side and Sandra motioned for her to keep going back to the path that had brought them to the pond. Robbie was close now. Sandra resisted the impulse to reach out and pull him to her. He was doing great. She could see the pain etched on his face but he wasn’t making a sound. She nodded and smiled to encourage him. She was so proud of the man he was becoming.
Finally, Robbie passed her following Susie toward the path. Sandra started to back up as quickly as she dared, keeping a watchful eye out for any sign of movement across the clearing. She felt Robbie’s hand on her should and realized she had reached the edge of the woods where both children were waiting. She heaved a sigh of relief and turned and followed them down the path. As they neared the railroad tracks, Robbie finally broke the silence “do you think it was the Brothers?” he asked fearfully.
“I don’t think so” Sandra replied. “I’m not exactly sure what’s on the other side of those woods on that side of the pond but I don’t think the Brothers would be coming from that direction. Besides, they got our supplies, our car, and our house. Hopefully they won’t even come looking for us.”
Robbie nodded. “We filled my water bottle and Susie’s. But you had yours with you.”
“Yes, I know. It’s okay. We’ll manage. Let’s get a bit further and then we’ll stop to check the map. I know there’s a creek, I’m just not sure how far ahead it is.” Sandra reached out to pat Robbie’s shoulder as they walked. “We’ll make it, son.” She assured him.
“I know, mom.” Susie stopped as the trail through the woods gave way to the railroad tracks. Sandra moved around Robbie and peeked out to look down the tracks both ways. She didn’t see any signs of people.
“I think we’re good for now.” Sandra motioned the kids to step out on the tracks. Once again they headed north. Robbie pulled some jerky from his bug out bag and handed it to his mom.
“You didn’t get to eat” Robbie said quietly. Sandra nodded and smiled at him as she started chewing.
“Oh I did find berries!” Sandra told the kids cheerfully. She reached into her pack and pulled out the zip lock bag where she had put the berries that she’d picked. She handed several to Robbie and then some to Susie.
“Oooh I love raspberries!” Susie exclaimed popping a fat juicy berry into her mouth. “Thanks mom. Hey do you think we’ll get there today?” Susie was almost skipping. Sandra sighed. She hated to be the bearer of bad news so soon.
“I think we’re going to get to sleep overnight in the tent, Susie. Won’t that be fun?” Sandra tried to make it sound like a treat instead of something to dread. The reality was they would be spending many nights in the tent before they’d get to the cabin.
“Oh sure, mom. I love camping!” Susie began to hop from one railroad tie to the next one and Sandra smiled.
“I wish I could bottle your energy, Susie.” Sandra said. She reached out and tugged Susie’s pigtail gently. “Oh, Robbie you need to take your medicine.” Sandra reached into the fanny pack around her waist that held her first aid kit and handed Robbie his pain medicine. Robbie swallowed the pill with a bit of water and smiled at his mom.
“Thanks, Mom.” They walked for about an hour. Susie was delighted several times by wildlife along the edge of the railroad tracks including a rabbit darting into the woods as they approached and then a doe and fawn spotted just inside the tree line. But it was the toad that Susie spotted that brought them all a little laughter. Mainly because Susie hopped like a toad along behind it for several minutes before she grew tired. The sight of her hopping like a toad and croaking every so often was a welcome relief to both Robbie and Sandra.
“Let’s stop and rest for a bit.” Sandra announced. Susie was tuckered out from her toad hopping adventure and Robbie had started to slow his pace over the last few minutes too. They stepped off the railroad tracks again and found a place under a nearby sugar maple tree. The shade of the tree was a cool respite from the heat of walking on the tracks. “How about an actual nap?” Sandra suggested. “I think it will be safe enough and then maybe we can walk a little farther once it cools off a little bit.” Robbie nodded and quickly pulled out his bivvy bag and spread his blanket on the ground. It took him a few minutes to figure out the best way to ease down onto the ground without straining his leg too much. Susie bounced over and snuggled up next to him.
Sandra sat down and leaned back against the tree trunk. She pulled out her map and spread it on the ground to study it. Robbie handed her his water bottle. “Drink mom, you have to” the look on his face made it clear he wasn’t taking no for an answer. Sandra took the bottle and drank.
“You’re right, Robbie. Water is going to be very important on this trip. That’s why I think we need to try to get to that creek today. We can fill that collapsible water jug that’s in my pack. It’ll be heavier to carry but I think it will be worth the trouble.” Robbie nodded and lay back and closed his eyes. Sandra pulled her compass from her backpack and used it to figure out how much farther it would be to the creek according to her map.
Sandra woke with a start. She’d fallen asleep against the tree but something had penetrated her slumber. She glanced over at the kids. Susie was asleep but Robbie’s eyes were open. He nodded to her that he had heard something too. Sandra quickly gathered her map and compass and put them back into her backpack.
“What was it, mom?” Robbie whispered. Sandra shook her head to indicate she didn’t know for sure and motioned for him to wake Susie. Robbie nudged his sister awake with a finger over his lips to indicate that she should be quiet. Sandra pulled her gun from her hip, just in case.
To Sandra’s surprise, Susie rolled over quickly and helped her brother roll up the blankets and stuff them back into the bivvy bag. Sandra motioned for the kids to stay near the tree and then she quietly moved to where she would have a better view of the tracks. She couldn’t see anyone. But they had definitely heard something. Sandra holstered her gun, then knelt down and removed her binoculars from her backpack and thoroughly scanned the woods on both sides of the tracks. She still didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She motioned for the kids to join her at the edge of the woods.
“The creek is about five miles north according to my map, we should be able to make it before dark if nothing else holds us up. We’re going to keep moving but we’re going to be quiet and stay off the tracks and just inside the tree line for a little bit. I don’t want to be caught out in the open.” The kids nodded and they set off.