In The Borrowed World Series, America is brought to its knees by coordinated terror attacks against the infrastructure. After spending weeks walking across a violent and horrific landscape to reach his family, Jim Powell hoped they could weather this storm on their secluded Appalachian farm. They had prepared for this. They had armed for this. They could live without power and fuel. What happens, though, when the same qualities that drew Jim to his isolated valley begin to attract another armed group looking for a place to hide from the unrest of a starving nation?
Franklin Horton’s Borrowed World Series has been a bestseller in the categories of Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian Science Fiction. He has been interviewed extensively for podcasts and for print media on the topic of preparedness. The series is noted for its realistic portrayal of how average Americans might be affected by societal collapse.
Release date: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Horsemen of the Apocalypse LLC
Print pages: 282
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No Time for Mourning
Ariel stalked toward the brook, parting thick late-summer grass that rose nearly to her waist. It was the determined walk of a headstrong child, a walk intended both to reach a destination and to put distance between her and her mother.
“Don’t go too far,” Ellen, her mother, warned, slinging the tactical shotgun over her shoulder. She picked blackberries and dropped them into a plastic bucket, each berry making a soft thud against the bottom of the empty bucket.
“I won’t. I’m exploring,” Ariel said. “I used to play here all the time. You always let me.”
“Things were different then,” Ellen said.
Ariel rolled her eyes and continued to the edge of the creek. She picked up a sliver of limestone the size of her palm and tried to skip it, but the creek was too narrow for that. The rock bounced once off the surface of the creek and then lodged itself in the soft mud of the opposite bank with a solid thwack.
“Stupid creek,” Ariel said, kicking at the grass which yielded in a completely unsatisfying manner.
She noticed the exposed roots of a Sycamore tree, the soil having been washed away by decades of water. A crusty snapping turtle sunned on the gnarled roots looking like some prehistoric revenant. Ariel crept toward it, intent on grabbing it by the tail and showing it to her mother. She knew it could bite her if she wasn’t careful. She was the type of child who had to pick up every frog, every snake, and every lizard she saw. Her parents didn’t discourage it – they wanted a brave, inquisitive child.
As she reached toward the leathery stub of a tail, the turtle lurched into the water, having sensed the child approaching.
“Stupid turtle,” Ariel said, stomping her foot.
She collapsed against the trunk of the tree, brushing a strand of hair from her face and sighing dramatically. She looked back at her mother. Ellen was still focused on picking berries so the dramatic sigh and collapse had been completely wasted.
Ariel returned to scanning the creek and movement caught her eye. A Blue Heron was moving up the creek. It approached with such stealth, such grace. The head moved from side to side in an eerily robotic manner, scanning the water for anything that might make a meal. Ariel admired the bird for a moment, then a sneaky smile spread across her face and she began looking for another rock.
She found one within arm’s reach as big as a dinner plate. She slid it into her lap, trying to move as slowly as the Heron so she wouldn’t startle it. When it was within a dozen feet, she grunted and slung the rock toward it with both hands. The rock didn’t reach the bird but landed close enough to splash it with a sheet of water.
Startled, the bird stumbled a few awkward steps, then took to flight, shrieking its primitive squawking cry. Ariel sat back beneath the tree, a broad grin of pleasure on her face. She wondered why such a pretty bird made such an ugly sound. She thought it sounded like a pterodactyl from dinosaur movies.
She jerked and turned, looking up to see her mother standing beside her.
“Did you try to hit that heron with a rock?”
Ariel thought quickly. She knew her mother loved birds, particularly herons. “No, Mommy, I was trying to keep it from eating a frog. I have a frog here that I’m friends with and I didn’t want the heron to eat him. I had to scare it off.” Ariel concentrated on making herself appear as innocent and sincere as she could. She was the hero here, not the villain.
Ellen frowned, unslung the shotgun, and dropped to the ground beside her daughter. She put her arm around Ariel and pulled her close. “What’s the matter with you, baby? Why are you in a bad mood?”
Ariel debated her response, then decided to be honest. “I heard you and Dad talking this morning. You said it would be almost time for us to start school but you didn’t know if they’d be having it or not. Then Dad said probably they wouldn’t and it made me sad.”
Ellen hugged her little girl tighter. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“You know what my favorite time of year is?” Ariel asked.
“Going back to school?”
“Yes!” Ariel said. “And you know what my favorite thing to do before school starts is?”
“Buying school supplies,” Ellen responded, recalling how much her daughter had always loved buying her supplies and new clothes for the school year. She would lay everything out and organize them, packing and re-packing them until the first day.
“Yes,” Ariel said. “And am I getting to buy school supplies this year? No! All because of this stupid apocalypse. This is the worst summer ever.”
Ellen couldn’t help but smile, which riled Ariel even further.
“It’s not funny,” Ariel whined.
“I know it’s not funny. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing because you keep calling it the apocalypse. This isn’t the end of the world, sweetie. Things will get back to normal one day.”
“That’s not what Dad says,” Ariel said. She lowered her voice and adopted her dad, Jim’s, serious tone. “You know, Ellen, things may never be the same again. Not in our lifetime anyway.”
Ellen cracked up again. Ariel mocked Jim enough in jest that she was pretty good at it.
Ariel smiled at her mom’s laughter, her eyes filling with tears. It was one of those complicated childhood emotions – wanting to laugh with her mother but unable to stop the tears from flowing at the same time. “I want things to be normal again. I want to go to school and see my friends. I want to be able to watch kid shows on cable TV. I want the power to come back on. I want to see a movie. We didn’t even get to have a vacation this summer. We didn’t get to go camping or to the beach or anything.”
Ellen sighed. “I want things to be normal again too, but you have to be a big girl and accept that things are different now and might be for a while. You are not the only one feeling bad right now. Some people have had worse things happen to them. Lloyd lost his parents. Buddy lost his daughter. Gary’s family lost a son-in-law. None of them has even had time to sit around and be sad about it. We’ve all been too busy.”
“They haven’t even had time to be sad?” Ariel asked. “It sure doesn’t seem that way to me. Everyone is sad and serious all the time. I don’t like it.”
“No, honey, they haven’t had time to mourn because they’ve been busy trying to help everyone else stay safe. Everyone is worried about their families.”
Ariel mulled this over, staring off at the creek. She hadn’t really thought about the bad things happening to other people.
“It’s not only our town, Ariel. The whole country is going through this right now. You should be glad that your daddy loved us enough to prepare ahead for bad times. Some people didn’t have those extra things. Some people didn’t think this would ever happen. That’s why things are scary right now.”
“Buddy said his little girl was buried at the cemetery in town,” Ariel said. The world and all its people were too big a thing to think about. She couldn’t comprehend that. She could comprehend her friend Buddy and his loss.
Ellen nodded. “I think she is.”
“I’d like to go visit her with him one day,” Ariel said.
Ellen’s heart melted at this, that her daughter could be throwing rocks at water birds one moment and then be so sweet the next. “I think he’d like that.”
“I’d like it too,” Ariel said.
Ellen disentangled herself and stood. “Now I need you to help me pick some berries so we can get back to the house. We have work to do.”
They worked together to fill the bucket, Ellen’s mind not on the job. They’d been so busy lately with all the requirements of this new way of life. Although they were managing better than most, it was easy in the summer. In a few weeks the nights would start getting cooler. Their dwindling fuel supply would likely be gone completely. Some people would be starving to death already. Others, who had never been prone to violence in their previous lives, would be gazing upon their hungry families and contemplating things they’d never imagined.
“Not everyone feels bad, Mommy,” Ariel said as they walked toward home.
“What do you mean, sweetie? Who doesn’t feel bad?”
“I don’t think Daddy feels bad,” Ariel said. “You remember how grumpy he was in the mornings when he was going to work? He’s not like that now. He’s happy in the morning.”
Ariel was right. Jim did spring out of bed each day with a sense of purpose.
“I don’t think he’s happy about what happened, Ariel. I think he’s just pleased that he’s been able to take care of us. I think he gets up each day with a plan of what he can do to make our life better right now.” She was finding it hard to explain sense of purpose to a child, but that’s what it seemed like to her. They’d never discussed it, though Jim did seem to have a new sense of himself. He was more confident. He had more energy. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, perhaps he even was happier.
Jim and Pops were working on the farm’s water system when Ellen and Ariel returned to the house. Jim was relieved they were back. They’d been less than five minutes away the whole time and they had a radio with them. Still, it worried him when they were out of his sight. He imagined that this was the same feeling homesteaders experienced in that same valley two hundred years before when residents lived in fear of Chief Benge’s band of Cherokee who frequently slipped in to kill farmers and kidnap their wives and children.
The family’s small farm had a good supply of drinkable spring water, a creek, and a pond. Even though he was grateful for the multiple sources of water, there was no denying that hauling water from those sources was a laborious chore that no one enjoyed. The lack of working plumbing was also an inconvenience. Jim had never minded an outhouse, however he was apparently the only one. Everyone else complained constantly. Although they were adapting to the lack of electricity, the lack of indoor plumbing was a more difficult hardship to overcome.
He’d made plans for an off-grid water system several years back and bought all of the components. Unfortunately, his daily schedule was the same as that of most people he knew in that there was never enough time to do everything that needed to be done. Something else was always broken and needing repair, so projects he simply wanted to do were usually pushed to the side by projects he had to do.
The basis of his water system was simple. He had a nine hundred gallon plastic water tank that he’d painted black. The black color would help it absorb heat and keep the water from freezing. He wasn’t yet sure what he was going to do about the coldest months of winter. Water from the home’s gutters would go through a series of screens, filters, and settlement barrels before being stored in the big tank. A garden hose ran from a fitting on the big tank to a twelve-volt RV water pump. From the pump, another hose was connected to an outside spigot of the house.
When Jim closed the main shut-off valve to his home’s plumbing, the valve between his well pump and pressure tank, he created a closed system that was fed from his nine hundred gallon tank instead of from the well. The RV pump ran off of a boat battery that was charged by a solar charger Jim built from parts on the internet. The RV pump had cost less than fifty dollars and was designed to start running when it sensed a loss in pressure. If someone in the house flushed a toilet, the pump started running and recharged the water system. Once it reached a certain pressure, the pump would quit running until someone used the water again. It was a simple system that would make life in the off-grid home much more convenient. It would be a small step back toward the normality of their old life. A very small step.
Jim was mounting the solar panel when Ellen and Ariel approached.
“Can you take these inside and set them on the counter?” Ellen asked Ariel, handing her the basket of blackberries.
Ariel nodded and pranced off with the bucket, humming a song.
“Bye, sweetie,” Jim called after her.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Bye, Dad.”
When Ariel was out of earshot, Ellen told him what had happened with their daughter while they were picking berries.
“I try to be conscious of what I say in front of her,” Jim said. “At the same time I want her to understand the gravity of the situation. I’m afraid if she’s not a little scared she may take unsafe risks, like wandering off from the house or talking to folks she doesn’t know.”
Ellen nodded. “I know and I agree, but I want her to have a childhood too. How do we balance it all? I want to get her out of the funk she’s in. I want her to be happy and playful again.”
Jim’s radio chirped and he groped for the black pouch he carried it in. It was always on his side, now part of his expanded set of every day carry items.
“Groundhog to Roadrunner,” came Pete’s voice. He’d insisted on call signs, taking his duty at his outpost ever more seriously.
“Go ahead, Groundhog.”
“You guys out of sight of the road?” Pete asked.
“Can you see the road from where you are?”
“Negative, Groundhog. Do I need to?”
“Maybe. There’s a truck with a cattle trailer coming down the road. I don’t recognize the truck.”
“Coming from which way?” Jim asked.
“From the direction of town.”
“Until we’re certain what this is, arm up and get in the house,” Jim said. He took off at a jog, heading for a vantage point where he could observe the road.
He thumbed the mike on the radio. “This is Jim. Everyone east of me, we have visitors. A truck with a cattle trailer. While it may be nothing, Pete doesn’t recognize the vehicle. Keep an eye out.”
He ran around to the front of the house and took a position behind a vehicle. From there, he was able to see the paved road running through the valley. He could now hear the growl of a Cummins diesel engine headed his way. You didn’t live in farm country and not learn to recognize the sound of the different engines.
When Jim saw the banged up Dodge dually he immediately had an idea who was in it. He didn’t know the pair by name but he knew that they were farmhands who worked at Rockdell Farms at the far end of the valley. When times were normal, he passed these men nearly every day at the big barn that served as the base of operations for this end of the massive cattle operation.
Rockdell Farms was one of the oldest continually operating businesses in the United States, having been established before the Revolutionary War. The original deed to the property was signed by Patrick Henry. It was one of the largest cattle operations east of the Mississippi River. At one point it had been nearly a hundred thousand acres, though the size had been greatly reduced over the years. Still, they raised tens of thousands of cattle and sheep every year.
When Jim had gated off the road between the valley and town, he and the other residents accepted that there would still be some people who needed to come and go, which was why he’d used a gate instead of sawing a tree down across the road. He didn’t have a problem with residents of the valley coming in and out. He hadn’t thought about the folks working Rockdell Farms because the farm had its own network of roads and those folks rarely passed through his valley to get there. He wondered why they opted to come in by a different road. There had to be a reason. Anything that didn’t make sense was a reason for concern. It might mean you had a problem that you didn’t even know about yet.
Jim’s radio chirped.
“What’s up, Jim?”
It was Gary, who was now living in Jim’s valley after having been run out of his home in a nearby town. The guy had made many of the same preparations as Jim had, then his location proved unsustainable. Too many neighbors. Too many scumbags.
“I got eyes on the truck. There’s some guys I recognize. Don’t really know them. Maybe if I recognized them, they’ll recognize me. They work at the big farm as you come into the valley the back way. I used to pass these same guys every day driving to work and we’d throw a hand up at each other. I want to talk to them about why they came in from this side of the valley. They never do that. They have their own road system.”
“Is that a problem?” Gary asked.
“Just being cautious. If there’s some kind of trouble on the other side of the valley that kept them from coming in the normal way I want to know about it. I’d hate to be totally oblivious to some developing threat right in our backyard. We’re kind of operating in the dark here and any information is helpful.”
“You think it’s safe to go talk to them?”
“As safe as anything these days, I guess. I’ll be armed.”
“They may be too,” Gary replied.
“I’ll be careful,” Jim assured him. “If I follow the creek that feeds the pond, it will bring me out at one of the bridges near that farm. I’m hoping that’s about where I’ll find them.”
“How about I go with you? I could hang back and provide a little backup.”
“That’ll work,” Jim said. “But hopefully I won’t need you.”
“You never know when shit will get crazy. If we’ve learned anything these past weeks, we’ve learned that.”
Jim smiled. Gary didn’t use much foul language, though curse words were occasionally slipping out now. The state of the world was rubbing off on him. It was a barometer of the times.
Jim walked the woods to Gary’s house, the scenery as peaceful as any on Earth. The house that Gary was staying in had belonged to Jim’s good friend Henry, now dead along with his wife and son. They’d been killed by a scumbag named Charlie Rakes who had been released prematurely from jail when the county couldn’t feed the inmates anymore.
Gary was waiting on him with an AR-15 and a vest of gear. They set off without a word, following a creek that ran through the inner recesses of undisturbed farmland. There were no houses, or any signs of man visible for most of the walk, save for the occasional strand of rusty barbed wire embedded in a tree. Jim imagined it looked much like it had when Daniel Boone passed through the area on his way to the Cumberland Gap.
Eventually they reached a fence, a concrete bridge, and the road that exited through the back of the valley. Beyond that, in the distance, they could see an open gate and the dually truck pulled just inside. The two men he’d seen in the cab of the truck were pushing a four-wheeler down the ramp at the back of the cattle trailer.
“You stay here,” Jim said. “You’ll have cover if you need to fire.”
“Got it,” Gary said. “Be careful.”
Jim climbed up the bank and walked in their direction, his M4 rifle in front of him on a single-point sling. He didn’t hold it at a ready position, but he did keep a hand on it, which was necessary to keep it from bouncing off his body. While he didn’t want to appear threatening, at the same time he didn’t want to appear defenseless. He had to be ready.
One man swung onto the ATV and started it. He shot off down the pasture, headed for a cluster of cattle at the far end of the fenced meadow. The remaining man pulled some steel gate panels off the trailer and quickly set up a temporary loading chute to funnel the cattle onto the trailer. He pulled a pint liquor bottle from his back pocket and watched the other man round up cattle. He unscrewed the cap and was taking a swig when Jim called to him.
The man jumped, sputtering, and nearly dropping his bottle.
“Easy now,” Jim said, holding a hand up in front of him. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
The man threw a quick glance to the ATV, checking to see if his buddy knew they had company. He quickly screwed the cap on the bottle and shoved it back in his pocket, like Jim might take it from him.
“Glad you didn’t spill that,” Jim said. “That would have been tragic.”
The man nodded and cracked a wary smile. He could appreciate a joke about liquor. He was missing most of his teeth, except for a few scattered in his lower jaw. He looked like a human Jack-O-Lantern. “Ain’t so easy to get right now.”
“That’s a fact. What’s your name?”
The man hesitated. “Hodge.”
“I’m Jim. I live back in here. I pass you guys here every day working this farm,” Jim said. “You usually see me in a dark blue Chevy with a cap on the back.”
“I recall the truck,” Hodge replied, the familiarity not putting him at ease. “You needing something?”
“Not really. Like I said, I live here in the valley and I noticed you guys coming through. We haven’t seen much traffic at all,” Jim said. “I wondered if there was some reason you drove in through my end of the valley instead of this end. I want to make sure there’s nothing out there that I need to be worried about, other than the obvious shit.” Jim was trying to keep it friendly and conversational, hoping to put Hodge at ease.
It appeared to be working. Hodge relaxed a little. “You the ones put the gate up back yonder?”
Jim nodded. “We did. There were too many people coming through just looking for trouble or looking to steal. We wanted to let them know they weren’t welcome. Thought the gate might at least slow them down.”
“You might have to replace the lock then,” Hodge said. “We had to cut the son-of-a-bitch off.”
Jim ignored that even though it irritated him. He gestured toward the small herd of cattle. “Patrick selling some cows or just moving them?”
Patrick was a descendant of the original owner of Rockdell Farms and the one currently running things. He was in his sixties and had grown up in the operation. Jim didn’t know him well. They were just acquaintances.
“Why you give a shit?” Hodge asked. He looked a Jim warily, then turned back to watch the ATV again. He pulled the bottle from his pocket, took a quick nip, and tucked it back.
“I’m asking because I know some folks who might be in the market for buying a few cows if they’re for sale. I ain’t trying to stick my nose in anybody’s business.”
Hodge looked satisfied by this. “Patrick ain’t likely to be selling no cows anymore,” the man said. “He’s dead.”
Jim was surprised for a second, then realized it was a purely old-world reaction. People were dropping like flies in the current state of the world. There wasn’t any reason to be shocked that someone had died. There were a lot of things a man could die from these days.
“Caught some people breaking into this house and tried to run them off. They was a better shot than he was. Killed him and his wife both.”
Jim nodded, letting this sink in. “So who’s running the farm?”
Hodge shrugged. “Ain’t no one running it. Patrick only had the one son and he’s out west. He ain’t likely to make it back here anytime soon.”
Jim had never been able to hide what he was thinking and feeling very well. He never had much of a poker face. His looks always gave him away. Right now his look was saying that he understood this man didn’t have any right to the cattle he was taking. At least no more right than anyone else. Although he didn’t intend it to be accusing, apparently the man took it that way.
“Look, we got to do something with the cattle,” Hodge said defensively. “We won’t be able to get feed this winter. They ain’t no more hay or silage being put up. They’ll starve and die off. Our families will probably starve and die off too if we don’t get some food coming in.”
“You have a point,” Jim said.
The sound of the ATV grew louder and Jim could see that it was headed in their direction, slaloming back and forth to steer a herd of cows in this direction. Hodge noticed too, and he looked nervous.
“I reckon I’m going to have to get back to work,” Hodge said.
“I’ll get out of your way then,” Jim said. “I was just wondering how you guys were set for fuel. If you have enough fuel to be hauling cattle, maybe you have enough to trade?”
“What’s in this truck is all the fuel we got between us, but word is that Wallace County is buying cattle,” Hodge said. “They got a lot of hungry people over there and some of them have a lot of damn money. You know that big subdivision over by the golf course? They took up a collection and they’re paying people to haul in cattle plus they’ll provide all the fuel. They even got their own security guarding the place.”
“Yep. This is the first load but we heard they’ll buy whatever you bring them.”
When the ATV reached them, the driver kept a wary eye on Jim, though he couldn’t stop what he was doing without the cattle scattering. Hodge jumped into action, yelling at the cows and tapping them on the back with a long stick. After a few minutes of tapping and hollering, the cattle were all loaded. The ATV was loaded up too, the cattle panels propped up against the fence so they’d have them for the next load.
The man from the ATV wiped his forehead with his shirttail and pulled a jug of water from the cab of the truck. He’d yet to acknowledge Jim. He drank from the water jug, now staring at Jim. When he’d finished, he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m a neighbor,” Jim said, trying to take the high road for a change. “I used to pass you guys every day on my way to work. Just thought I’d stop in and see if you’d heard any news.”
“Ain’t heard a damn thing,” the man said. He looked at the other man. “Hodge, you hear any news?”
Hodge shook his head. “Nary a bit.”
“Then there you go,” the other man said. “Nothing to tell.”
Jim had tried to be friendly throughout the conversation even though that wasn’t natural for him. He did it because he was trying to put them at ease and gain some information. Being dismissed like this was pissing him off, though.
“With times being what they are, a fellow should be friendly to his neighbors. You never know when you might need one of them.”
“I’ll take my chances,” he said. “Get in the truck, Hodge. We got places to go.”
The driver started the truck and drove out the gate, maneuvering the long trailer between the posts. Jim followed along behind them. When the truck was through, Hodge leaned out the window. “You mind getting that gate for me, buddy?”
“Shut your own fucking gate,” Jim told him and walked off.
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