Thursday, March 12, 2020

Slow is fast and fast is death (fiction)

Sally Straeder felt old. It was a novel sensation.

She had always possessed boundless energy. She was young. She had been a dancer, a skater and a gymnast.

But now she felt old. The last four months had been hard on her.

First, Wilder and Miguel had shown up and explained that something evil had swallowed up her husband.

Then, weeks later, Chernovsky stopped by and apologized for not bringing her husband home.

Summer turned to fall then fall turned into early-winter.

Almost a month ago, Quinn and Dysen had motored back to Capiche on the second day of their honeymoon. Quinn was the last person to see her husband alive.

Quinn explained that they had been in “basic training” together. Quinn said that Steve had looked fine and seemed to be fitting in well. Then their paths had parted and it did not seem politically advisable for them to have contact.

Dysen offered Sally the job of watching the lambs that Wilder had donated to Quinn for his military service. The lambs had been delivered earlier in the month and the ram was to be ‘turned in’ with them the last week of November. Obviously, Dysen and Quinn were going to be occupied elsewhere.

Chernovsky offered her helpers for around the farm.

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings. It had been deemed advisable to take full advantage of the huge influx in labor to get all the crops out of the field and into the barn.

It also gave the citizens of Capiche a good look at the new men and to take their measure.

Sally, for her part, wanted nothing to do with a hired man. The heavy work of fall harvest helped her sleep at night. With each passing day, a good night’s sleep had become increasingly elusive.

The weather had turned colder and the naked trees did little to slow the wind. Even with the heavy work of digging potatoes she needed to stay bundled up.

That was another thing. When Steve was here...or expected to show up any day...she had never remembered being cold.

The autumnal rains were more mist-like than torrential this year. The soil never really dried out and smears of clay seemed to find every square inch of skin.

Sally crackled when she walked and the clay dried her skin.

Sally fell into the routine of cutting and dragging bolts of wood out of the wood-lot for about an hour. Then a short break. Then digging potatoes for an hour and chopping corn stalks for thirty minutes. Then another break. Then cutting wood to stove size for an hour….. 

Even with the ever-changing tasks, her muscles were always sore and tired

It became increasingly difficult to eat. She pecked at her morning bowl of oatmeal all day long. Dinner was a glass of milk and quarter of a hard, gritty winter pear from the tree beside the road.

Sally felt old. There was so much to do.

Sally knew that Steve was not dead. She would have felt it. She knew she would have.

Sally did not consider herself ‘fey’ but she could not imagine Steve’s death not causing a ripple in the universe.

But where was he???

It was late afternoon and Sally was carrying armloads of split kindling from the block to the back porch where an old chest freezer served as the kindling box.

She heard a “Woof” and looked up to see “Dog” come limping up the drive. His ribs were slats and he had clearly fallen on hard times.

Sally’s face was buried in Dog’s neck when she heard Steve’s voice. Looking up, she saw him coming up the drive as well.

She dashed down the drive. All coyness and games had deserted her. She launched and leapt into his arms. He barely had time to drop his pack before catching her.

She knocked him over. Tiny Sally bowled Steve over.

In the morning, she asked him “Why did you dally so long? I thought you were dead.”

With him safe in her arms she could voice her fears.

He had promised to explain after more important things had been attended to.

“We left Howell when those bastards from Ann Arbor invaded us.” Steve said.

“Who is ‘we’?” Sally asked.

“One of the officers. He got orders to cut us loose so Ann Arbor couldn’t conscript us.” Steve said. “His name was Eric.”

“We were making pretty good time.” Steve said.

“Eric grew up in St Johns and swinging north would take us away from Ann Arbor. The last thing we wanted to have happen was to become casualties as Ann Arbor consolidated control and eliminated potential problems.” Steve said.

“The first day, we made ten miles. Then two more days until we hit Bancroft and that is where the shit started to fly.” Steve reminisced.

“Then what happened?” Sally asked, basking in the warm glow of having spent the night in her husband's arms, once again with her life's one true love.

“Ebola” Steve said.

“What?” Sally asked. That was not an answer she was expecting.

“Ebola broke out in Flint and people bailed out. There were people in Bancroft who had visible symptoms.” Steve said.

“It wasn’t just Bancroft. It was in Morrice and Laingsburg and who knows where else.” Steve said.

“In Laingsburg we saw a man bleed-out on the road.” Steve said.

“We stopped trading and sped up.” Steve said.

“Then Eric got blood blisters on his forearms. I was afraid I was going to catch it, too.” Steve said.

“What did you do?” Sally asked, horrified.

“Eric knew of a farmhouse northwest of St Johns. He slept in the house. I slept in the horse-barn.” Steve said.

“We quarantined.” Steve said. “I cut wood and foraged for food. Lots of rabbits but no deer. Apples. Some fish, mustard greens and dock. Constipation was not a problem.”

Sally ran her hand over Steve's ribs. They protruded like the knuckles on a fist. Clearly, there weren't many calories in a rabbit.

“Did Eric make it?” Sally asked.

“Yeah. He made it.” Steve said.

And then they made love again.

---This is the end of Torvaldsen/Howell segment of the Seven Cows story. Thanks for reading.---


  1. So...where is Eric, aka Lieutenant Martens? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Thanks for writing this series, Joe. I really do look forward to each installment.

  2. Martens, Straeder and Dog were heading to St Johns to avoid the conflict between Howell and Capiche. They chose St Johns because that was Martens' home-town. I imagine that once Martens was free of symptoms, he walked from the farmhouse that was northwest of St Johns to wherever his family lived.

  3. Replies
    1. +1

      Enjoyed the story.

      And the other posts you make.

  4. You are a true wordsmith.
    Please don't stop.

  5. I'm another who looked forward to every installment. Thank you.

  6. Great reading as always. Thanks! I look forward to the next yarn.

  7. I would pay for more written words from you.....

    please publish?

    1. I am thinking about it. The editing is work. Writing is therapeutic, especially when Dad was in decline.

  8. Great story. I hope you can do more as time permits.


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