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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hey’d been moving almost non-stop for three nights and nearly four days when they came across the small hunting shack near the creek. They hadn’t seen or heard any sign of Mason since leaving the farm, although he’d still been alive when Jacob tied him up in the barn. Sandra glanced at the sun. They’d been watching the shack for nearly an hour with no signs of movement.
Sandra glanced at Jacob who nodded. “Okay kids, Jacob’s going to go in and check out this cabin, you’re going to stay back just in case.” Sandra helped Susie slide from behind her off the horse and to the ground.
“We got her mom.” Alex and Robby immediately surrounded Susie and led her to the edge of the trees out of sight. Sandra dismounted and wearily led the horse by the reins to where the kids were gathered. She handed the reins to Alex.
“I’m going to cover your dad, just in case someone’s in there” Alex nodded. “Robby, watch your sister.” Sandra gave Robby a reassuring nod and followed as Jacob drew his gun and cautiously approached the hunting shack. When she had a good view of the shack, Sandra drew her gun and stepped up beside a large tree. She kept her eyes peeled for any signs of movement from the shack as Jacob moved closer.
Jacob was at the door of the shack now. A stack of seasoned firewood was piled to the left of the door, but nothing freshly cut. Sandra watched the lone window for any movement as Jacob carefully eased the door open and disappeared into the shack. After a few tense moments Jacob emerged from the door and waved to signal the coast was clear.
Sandra breathed a sigh of relief and motioned to the kids to come out of hiding. She watched them come across the clearing together. Alex led the horse with one hand but kept hold of Susie’s right hand and Robby was on Susie’s left. It dawned on Sandra that in just four days of running from Mason, her kids had bonded with Alex and his father Jacob. It might be time to tell them about her bug out location.
Sandra took the reins from Alex and tied the horse to the tree near the door of the shack and then followed the kids inside. The shack was just that, a shack. Just one large room with a five-gallon bucket topped with a toilet seat in the far back corner. Thankfully the room held a large double bed in one corner, two couches near the wood cook-stove, a small rough cut lumber table and two chairs. They wouldn’t need to sleep on the ground tonight and maybe they could even have a decent meal.
“I figure you and your kids can take the bed. Alex and I can take the couches. I probably won’t sleep much anyhow.” Jacob sank down onto one of the couches.
“That’s kind of you. Thanks.” Sandra smiled at him thankfully and she sank onto the couch beside him. “Hey kids, how about bringing in some of that firewood from the stack out front”? She waited for the boys and Susie to disappear out the door. “What are the odds someone’s coming back here, ya think?” Jacob shrugged.
“Hard to tell really, but what’s left in that makeshift toilet in the corner is pretty well composted.” Sandra gave him a quizzical look. “Well, I looked when I cleared the cabin. Wouldn’t want to be caught in here if someone was just out in the woods or something, right?” Sandra nodded. “A agree, we’re okay. We could probably rest up here for a day or two if you want to. Although we should probably have one person on watch at night.”
“That makes sense. I know I sure could use a rest. Do you think Mason is tracking us?” Jacob shrugged again.
“Ya know it’s hard to tell with him. Sometimes he hangs onto a grudge like a pit bull. I’m hoping that wallop to the head Alex gave him back in the barn kept him groggy for a day or so. Heck, maybe it even knocked some sense into him.” They both chuckled. Sandra still couldn’t believe Jacob had been mixed up with a horrid man like Mason. She could understand his fear for Alex’s life if he had tried to get Mason off their farm.
“Then, let’s stay a day or two. We can rest up, maybe hunt a little bit. I can forage for some wild edibles and medicinals.” Jacob smiled at her. I’d like to see if I can find some garlic or echinacea to have in my herb bag. And I saw a white willow tree out by that pond we passed on the way in here. I can use the leaves to make willow tea which works like aspirin.
“My wife knew about those wild medicinal plants too. I wish I’d paid more attention to it. I would have if I’d known I’d lose her so soon.” Jacob wiped at his eye.
“Alex told Robby what happened and he told me. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Sandra gently laid her hand on Jacob’s arm and smiled at him. “You’ve done a great job with Alex. He’s a great kid.”
“Thanks, I try.” Jacob’s face turned red and Sandra withdrew her hand as Jacob stood up quickly. “Well I guess I better see if I can scrounge up something for dinner, eh? If I can get a rabbit or something, we can have an actual meal for once.”
“Sure that’d be nice. I’ll get the fire going while you’re gone.” The kids came in the door carrying firewood and began to stack it by the cook stove.
“I won’t be long.” Jacob headed out the door with his pack in search of a rabbit or other meat for a decent dinner.
“Hey Robby, did you guys see any cattails near that pond on the way here? Robby and Alex were setting up a checker game and board they had found under one of the couches.
“Yeah a bunch on the one side. But I finally have someone my age to play a game with, can it wait?” Robby was whining but Sandra didn’t have the heart to correct him this time. He was right. She debated for a moment on the safety of leaving them without an adult but they had passed the pond right before getting to the clearing, she wouldn’t be far from the shack.
“Never mind. You two stay here. Mind the cook stove and that boiling water I have on. I’ll take Susie and go forage for herbs and get some cattails. Robby nodded and Alex just grinned. It seemed both the boys were glad for a chance to just be kids for a short time. “Come on Susie, let’s go foraging.” Susie gladly joined her mother. “Bolt the door and make sure it’s Jacob or I BEFORE you open it boys.”
Sandra warned as she headed out the door with Susie. Mom and daughter explored near the shack first and actually located an overgrown herb garden where they found some mint and chives. Sandra tucked the herbs into her waist pouch and then led Susie beyond the clearing to the pond. “Okay Susie you can play right here for a bit while I look around.” Sandra spread an old quilt on the ground and Susie flopped down and started picking dandelions.
Sandra took off her shoes and socks and moved closer to the water’s edge where the cattails were thickest and started digging them out of water. As she pulled them from the water she cut and peeled the roots because the roots are harder to peel once dry. She added the cut pieces to the foraging bag slung over her shoulder. She intended to try to dig up a couple entire stalks if she could, so she could process them later at the shack. Sandra was so glad she’d researched cattails long before the EMP hit.
Few people knew cattails are as good as gold for a survival situation. If you’re lost and you find cattails you have a food source and you’ve likely found water. Coffee lovers will want to roast the core of the roots to use as a coffee alternative. The fluffy seed heads and dry stalks to fuel a fire, or to insulate your bedding area. You could even bend and tie the stalks to build a temporary shelter if you needed to. The fluff works well for absorption in diapers and for feminine hygiene needs. Sandra wiped her hands as she took a break from digging and glanced at Susie. She grinned when she saw Susie hopping across the grass chasing a small frog.
Sandra had used cattails twice before the EMP when cooking just to make sure she could. You can eat the tops and the white part on the bottom of the stalks easily. The pollen can be used like flour to thicken stews and soups. The roots, and rootlets, although tougher to dig from the mud can be cooked and eaten in various ways too. Even without pots and pans cattail roots can be cooked in the fire until they’re black and then you can peel, scrape, or chew off the blackened fiber. The fiber can cause stomach pain if eaten uncooked, she’d learned that the hard way the first time she tried eating them.
She was tucking some more cattail pieces into her foraging bag when she heard Susie begin to scream for her. “Mommeeee!” Sandra spun around and her heart sank. What looked to be a cottonmouth snake had snuck between Susie and the safety of her mother. Susie was scared out of her mind, and all she could think to do was to scream. Sandra grabbed the collapsable shovel she was using, and in a moment of pure primal instinct, struct the snake from behind, leaving a deep wound in its back. Sandra swung the shovel down again and again causing Susie to scream even louder with each strike.
She finally looked down to see she had very roughly severed its head, and had left a few deep gashes in other places down its long brown body. She picked up both pieces and, along with the shovel, stuffed them into her bag. Without hesitation, Sandra swept Susie up into her arms, and darted back towards the house. She tried to scream to let the boys know she was coming, but the frantic run had taken too much air out of her lungs. She knew they’d never find a doctor let alone one with antivenom in time.
The worry that filled her mind and heart was almost too much to bear, it felt as if her legs might give out at any second but adrenaline kept her moving forward. A snake bite was much more serious than Robby’s bruised leg. And if it had truly been a cottonmouth that bit her, Susie wouldn’t live without antivenom. She pushed the thought out of her mind and focused on closing the remaining distance to the shack.
Three loud thuds on the door and her shout were enough to tell the boys something was wrong. Alex ran to the window, and with a quick nod to Robby, opened the door for Sandra and Susie to come rushing through. Robby saw the frantic look in his mother’s eyes and Susie in her arms and cleared off the table, shoving everything into a messy pile on the floor. Susan wasted no time stripping off Susie’s clothes and searching for a snake bite.
“Mom! Mom, what happened?” Robby asked frantically, already on the verge of tears. Something wrong with his sister, and he hadn’t been there to protect her. He was her older brother. Protecting Susie was his job. He was trying to keep his distance and stay out his mom’s way, even though he desperately wanted to rush to sister’s side.
Alex was standing still, eyes locked on Susie. He was clutching the first aid kit in his hands, prepared physically, but not mentally, to deal with whatever had happened to Susie.
What was only several seconds seemed like an eternity. The room stood silent and tense, with Robby and Alex standing perfectly still. Neither was sure they wanted to hear what Sandra was about to say.
Sandra finally turned around, tears streaming down her face.
“Oh my gosh, she’s…….” (to be continued so watch for our next installment of Preppers on the Run to find out what happens next)