He hated that he had been right, but being right had probably saved their lives.
“Reports are in that the nation’s grain and grass crops are suffering from the extended drought that has gripped the nation.”
Jason reached up and turned the television off. It had been the same story for the last sixteen weeks, and he was sick of it. The reporters on CNN said that the drought was global. Jason looked out his window across the parched field his farm sat on. Forty-two acres of land, forty-two acres of hay that had dried up before the shoots were even a foot tall.
The old rotary phone that hung on the wall rang, the wallpaper cracked and peeling beneath it.
“Hello?…..No, I don’t have any hay for your livestock, I’m sorry.” Jason hung up the phone as Martha, his wife, walked in.
“That’s the fifth call this week,” she said over a bottle of water, “Who was it this time?”
He almost said something about her use of water, but luckily he looked at his hand first, which was clenched around a bottle of his own. “It was Sam Ratner. He said if I could bring him even a single bale of hay he’d trade a case of water for it.”
“Can you get a bale out of what’s out there?” His wife asked him.
“I still have two in the barn I could trade if I had to, but don’t we still have a cellar full of water?”
“Yeah, and I will say it again, before you bring it up. You were right, I was wrong.”
She had chided him the entire month of November as he poured over every inch of the Farmers’ Almanac after it came out in September. She had laughed at him when he had started buying cases of water and storing them in their basement, along with canned vegetables and non-perishables.
Even the clerks at the local markets had started calling him Chicken Little. Jason remembered the stories his great grandfather had told him about the dust bowl and how hard those times had been, and he hadn’t been willing to chance it.
“You know honey, we ought to see if the Ratners, and everyone else who has called looking for hay want to do a potluck. We could have it here, share some of our food with them. They all know we have it, Chicken Little.” She had adopted the name after hearing one of the clerks call him that. “Then they can all see that you have no hay to give them. I mean, we have livestock of our own to care for.”
Jason had sold off two of his cows earlier in the year in an effort to reduce the amount of water and food he would need. His remaining dozen cattle were looking a little on the lean side, and he had been slowly reducing their feed levels in an effort to help make his supplies last.
It was barely July now, and the Farmers’ Almanac said there would be no rainfall for the rest of the year. “You know this thing could last for months now, we can’t afford to share yet.” He could tell by the look on her face that she didn’t like his answer but she accepted it.
“I know, but those people are out there suffering.”
“It’s only been a few weeks, they aren’t suffering yet.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and looked down into her eyes. “You know if it comes down to the line, I will help them out.”
“I know,” she smiled up at him.
A gunshot from outside startled the couple.
“Now Mistah and Missus Thatcher, come on out, we don’t want any trouble,” a voice shouted from outside.
“That’s Tommy Macland,” Martha said in a panicked whisper. She peered out from behind the closed curtains, “and his brother Jimmy is with him.”
“Don’t go out there, lemme grab my shotgun.” Jason grabbed the key to his gun case from the nail where it hung next to the old telephone, and did just that.
A second shot came from outside as the old farmer pumped a shell into place. “Now look here Tommy, if you don’t want any trouble, I suggest you and Jimmy get outta here.” He peeked out the window and saw that Jimmy was behind the wheel of their father’s old pickup truck. Tommy stood in its bed swaying slightly, gun pointed into the air.
“I see you theah Mistah Thatcher, now you and the Missus come on out.” As he finished the sentence, his left hand, which had been hidden behind the cab of the truck, raised a dark brown bottle to his lips. The younger man tilted his head back, the foamy liquid spilling out of his mouth and down the blue coveralls he wore.
“Does your dad know you’ve been drinking Tommy? He’ll tan your hide if he finds out.”
“My pa’s dead, old man. Now get out heah!”
Martha gasped. “I saw him just yesterday! What happened?” she managed to keep her tone to a whisper.
“Go on out, I’ll be right behind you, don’t make any sudden moves.”
As Martha opened the front door, worry lines etched into her face, she said over her shoulder, “Don’t do anything stupid Jason, please.”
He bolted up the stairs as Martha stepped out of the house.
“Now where is your husband Missus Thatcher?” the look on Tommy’s face said he was concentrating hard on not slurring his words.
“He’s right behind me, Jason, aren’t you? Jason!”
A shot rang out from above her. The bullet’s impact with Tommy’s left shoulder spun him a full 360 degrees before knocking him down.
‘Oh Shit!” came Jimmy’s response from inside the truck. He slammed the old pickup into reverse and backed it up as fast as it would go.
Jason stood in the guest bedroom and watched as the truck spun around and a cloud of dust raced away from his farm.
“What’d you go and do that for?” His wife came storming in.
“I just clipped him. They’ll be able to patch him up good as new. Now I’m gonna head over to James Macland’s and find out what Tommy meant. You don’t answer the door for nobody, you hear me?”
She nodded. She had seen Jason shoot a fox before, and a couple of ducks, but never had she thought that he could shoot another human being. “What if they come back?”
Jason held out the key to his gun case, “Shoot ‘em.” He tore down the stairs, taking them two at a time, skipped the last four steps altogether, grabbed a couple of bottles of water and, shoving them into a pack, headed out to the garage, where he kept his Harley. The motorcycle roared to life as it jumped out of the building, bike and rider speeding down the road, leaving a thin plume of dust behind.
Jason flew down the road, trying to cover the five miles as quickly as possible when a siren blared to life behind him.
“Really Nick, not now” the old farmer said as the Sheriff walked up to him.
“Where you goin’ in such a rush, Jason?” Nick asked, a toothpick hanging from the left corner of his mouth.
“Tommy and Jimmy Macland were just at my place. Tommy had been drinking and had James’ shotgun. He said his dad was dead.” Jason carefully avoided the fact that he had shot Tommy, even though it would eventually get back to Nick.
“What? Nah, I was over there this morning, he ain’t dead.”
“You sure ‘bout that Nick?”
Nick pursed his lips, “Well, no.”
The bike shot away from where the Sheriff stood, causing Nick to jump back. “Damn it!” he exclaimed as he ran back to his car.
As Jason hopped off of his bike, Nick pulled into the Macland’s driveway and jumped out, the cruiser rocking back and forth from the force of the emergency break being put on.
“Now hold on there Jason…”
Jason ignored him and stormed up to the front door, calling for James to come out. Nick reached back into his car and pulled his own shotgun out, not liking how quiet the house seemed.
Jason tried the door, and found it unlocked. As he opened the door, he called out again. “Hey James, it’s Jason and Nick, you in there?”
James lay in the entryway to the kitchen, his lifeblood in a pool beneath him.
“Ah, shit!” Jason exclaimed and ran to his fallen friend.
Nick stood in the doorway, immobile. “I didn’t sign up for this.”
“Dammit Nick, now is not the time for this crap.” Jason turned his head to look back at the Sheriff, and the fallen form of James’ wife, Theresa, caught his attention.
“No!” Jason said as he crawled across the floor to where she lay, hidden behind the sofa from Nick. “She’s still alive, Nick. Get your ass over here, and call for a fuckin’ ambulance.”
The form beside Jason moaned, but did not stir as the sheriff came over, his eyes fixed upon the dead man in the doorway. By the time Nick made it to Theresa he hadn’t called for any assistance, so Jason ripped the radio from the man’s belt and called for help.
It took seven minutes for the ambulance to show up, and by that time, Theresa had woken up, but was unclear of what had happened. Jason did his best to block the sight of her husband from her, but when the paramedics arrived, they forced him to move back, revealing the grisly sight.
Theresa shrieked once before she passed out, her head softly slumping against the couch she had been leaning against.
“Who?” Nick asked, speaking for the first time since entering the Macland’s house.
“I have a guess,” Jason shot a glance at Theresa and shook his head. “Their own mother,” he whispered under his breath. “Nick, you go with Theresa to the hospital, and keep an eye out for her boys, I have a feeling they may be there too. I’ve got to get home to Martha.” He was suddenly afraid. Plenty of people knew he had the stockpiles of supplies. How long would it be before someone else tried something? He darted out the front door and leapt onto his bike. He opened its throttle and was back home in four minutes, but his house was just as quiet as when he had left.
“Martha, you ok?” He called out as he rode his bike into the garage.
“In here dear,” she called back to him.
He found her in the kitchen, preparing a pumpkin pie that she had pulled out of their freezer.
“Who’s that for?” He asked as he followed her into the dining room where he found Sam and Priscilla Ratner seated at his supper table. Enraged, he started to say something, but Sam cut him off.
“Calm down, we were on our way over when I called earlier. You really oughtta get a cell phone,” he held out his to emphasize the point.
“Why? I couldn’t hear it over the tractor anyways.”
Sam shrugged, “Anyhow, we figured if you had a bale, we’d be halfway here, and well, even if you didn’t it would be nice to see you.” His smile was warm and unthreatening.
Jason relaxed a little. James’ death had him on edge.
“Where’d you run off to? We saw the dust trail from that bike o’ yours.” Priscilla finally spoke up, her smile as sweet as Martha’s pie.
“You mean Martha didn’t tell you?” He looked at his wife, trying to figure out how much they knew. She shook her head slightly, hoping that the Ratners would not catch the motion.
“Oh, Theresa Macland fell and hurt herself, I just went to check on her, see if she needed anything. She’s in a bit of shock, but she’ll be okay.” Jason hoped the half truth would be enough.
“Oh, I hope she’ll be alright.” Priscilla said, a look of worry on her face. Jason had forgotten how close those two had been growing up.
“She’ll be fine, looks like she hit her head a little hard is all, just needs some rest.” Another half truth, Jason thought. He was getting good at this game.
“So, what do you think about this drought?” Sam asked as if it was the local high school baseball team he was talking about.
“What about it? Do I think it’s some government cover up like those wackos on the TV?” He shook his head and snorted. Jason could not help feeling that these two could not be trusted.
“Well, we heard it had something to do with the oil drilling that they were doing up north, that somehow they messed up our wells or something.”
Jason was sure that the reason behind a worldwide drought could not be local to their little town, and he said so. “How is messing up our water supply going to effect the whole world?’
Priscilla chewed on her bottom lip, and opened her mouth twice as if to speak, but no words came out.
“Well, I heard,” Martha began, “that it had to do with the work they were doing to try and stop the hurricanes down south.”
“You mean the Wraimo Project that they were talking about all last year?” Sam asked. The thought that new technology could be harmful appalled him.
“Yeah, they found a way to shift the wind patterns in the Gulf of Mexico to stop the hurricanes and all those bad storms or something like that.
“That’s that conspiracy shit I was talking about Martha, that can’t be it.” Can it? Jason thought to himself. How would the Farmers’ Almanac have known that?
Priscilla found her voice, “No, that Wraimo stuff was just theories. Some scientist was on the TV yesterday talking how, if they could develop that technology, they could fix this.
The Ratners finished their pie and heartily expressed their gratitude for the company in these “troubling times” as Sam put it, and left. It was not until about five minutes after the front door had shut that Jason realized he had not seen either Sam’s truck or Priscilla’s ancient Cadillac when he had pulled up on his bike.
“Martha, how’d they get here?”
“Well, I guess they drove. That’s funny, I don’t recall hearing an engine leave just now.”
Jason looked out the window and saw a pair of shapes trudging down his long driveway. “You know, if the hay hadn’t died, we wouldn’t be able to see them.’
“You mean they’re walking?”
“Jason…” She started, but he had already grabbed the keys to his truck. He knew he could not live with himself, and there would have been no living with Martha, had he not offered them a ride.
He hopped into his beat up old truck and looked at the bench seat. It was covered in newspapers which he shoved on to the floor as he fired up the engine. The heavy diesel beast sputtered to life and he drove it out of the garage, the vehicle bouncing from every bump he hit.
He pulled up next to where the Ratners were walking and, leaning over, opened the passenger side door. “Get in,” he told them.
“We’re fine,” Sam insisted.
“Then where’s your truck?”
Priscilla broke down in tears, so Jason tossed the truck into park and got out. “Sam, what’s going on?”
Sam crossed his arms and rested them on the side of the truck before he spoke. “You know I’m the one that started calling you Chicken Little, right?”
“I had heard…” Jason was unsure of where this was going.
“Well, I didn’t buy any of the shit, I mean I thought it was shit at the time, that you were carrying on about.”
“Ah,” the resolution of Sam’s story dawned on Jason, but he let the other farmer continue.
“I traded my truck for a few bales of hay after you said you had none, and we were walking by your place when we decided we needed a break.”
“Who’d you trade your truck to?”
“James Macland, but he was out in the field already. Jimmy took it from me at the time and said they would deliver the bales later.”
“Dammit, get in.”
“What’s wrong?” Priscilla said in between sobs.
“Tommy and Jimmy were by here earlier today. They killed James.”
“What?” Sam’s wife’s sobs got louder.
“That’s what I was doing over there earlier. I went to check on them. Nick was there with me.”
Sam hopped into the passenger seat of the truck. “Priscilla, go back and wait with Martha.”
“Jason and I are going to get my truck back…”
Jason decided it was not the time to argue and got back in the truck. He watched Priscilla receding into the distance as they travelled back to the Macland’s farm.
As he pulled up the driveway, an officer that neither man had ever seen walked up to them, preoccupied with the clipboard he held.
“Can I help you fellas?” He asked without looking up, his bushy mustache moving with each word.
Sam spoke up first, “These boys took my truck from me this morning.”
“You must be Sam…” The man’s eyes darted over the clipboard, and he stabbed at the word with his finger, “Ratner. We’ve been looking for you. And you are?” The officer looked at Jason.
“My name’s Jason Thatcher sir. I’m the one led Nick to the bodies earlier.”
“Yeah, you’re on my list too. Go on.” Without another word, the officer waved the truck on and went back to staring at his clipboard.
They had parked and entered the house when Nick walked up to them. “Jason, what’s this I hear ‘bout you shooting Tommy?’
Sam shot Jason an inquisitive look.
“He showed up at my house drinking and waving James’ shotgun around. He fired it twice, and demanded that Martha and I come outside. I was afraid. But I only grazed him.” A moment of doubt hit the old farmer. “Right?”
“Yeah, he’ll live alright, but this doesn’t look good for you.” The Sheriff turned his attention to Sam.
“And you. What the hell is your truck doing here. And why were the keys in Theresa’s purse?”
“Why don’t you ask her?” Sam retorted defensively.
“We did, and she doesn’t remember.” Nick’s tone was accusatory, but he did not come out and say what was on his mind.
“Well,” Sam began, and recounted his story in front of the Sheriff.
“So, he was at your place after you left here?” This question was directed at Jason.
“Was the hay ever delivered?” The Sheriff turned back to Sam.
Sam looked back out into the yard, “Nope, it was supposed to be those two over there.” He pointed at a pair of bales that were sitting on a trailer.
“Ok,” Nick said and tossed a set of keys back to Sam.
Sam caught the keys and shook the Sheriffs hand vigorously. “Thanks.”
“Sheriff, do you need anything else? We’d like to get back to our wives.” Jason said with a sour expression upon his face.
“No.” He turned back to the crime scene, and then spun back. “But Jason, you’re still not off the hook for Tommy.