Kid’s Success

I think I was actually getting somewhere. Not sure where though.

Alfred looks toward the bar from the back corner of L & L pub. He squints against the shadows beyond the circle of light provided by the two lamps on the wall. The fire still gives enough light to see the bar, but the shadows are growing. Alfred sighs. “My goodness, that was our last meeting. We visited here closer to a week after that family meeting. The children were already managing things. That seems like forever ago. The speed of Catherine and Joseph’s growth is what confuses me about the time.”

I raise an eyebrow. “That’s good though, right? I am glad to hear that the children are successful.”

Alfred snarls his lip around his beer glass. “I don’t know, Edward. I truly wonder about this pace. Summer turned to fall after that meeting. The children began their first breeding cycle and continued to practice the grazing through that winter. That first spring under Catherine and Joseph was the most successful breeding cycle which the farm had ever seen. Catherine and Joseph doubled the size of the herds. Every ewe had three sheep and every cow had two calves. Such a yield is unheard of.”

“So, the children learned even more than you thought. I told you they had the best teachers.”

Alfred shakes his head. “Really, I just thought they were lucky. But, they have continued having large breeding cycles. They have doubled the size of the herd every year. The culling cycles have become heavy work. The problem becomes what to do with all this extra livestock.”

“Well, that’s not the only complication at this point, is it? I think I heard something about the children having to build houses too.”

Alfred nods. “Yeah, they did that quicker than anyone expected too. Now, they did rely on Papa and I to help. We constructed a house and a barn for each child. We had to expand the barns because of the yields. Now, they even have a couple or three barns a piece. The yields are just fantastic. You can’t believe the size of the herds now.”

“So, the children settled into new houses with bigger herds all in the first year? That does sound amazing.”

“That’s right. By the summer after the meeting, Catherine and Joseph both moved out of Papa’s house, but I kept my room in his house on the Northern hill.”

“As a result, are you really working three jobs? You are helping the children with their flocks and reporting back to Papa?”

“Well, Papa goes down to the river to ‘fish’ every day now. He says he still wants to be in the land. I think he really goes down there to keep an eye on the children and see if they need any help. He rarely brings back any fish. But, yeah, Papa and I do talk about what the kids are doing.”

“It does sound like you have a lot on your plate.”

Alfred slouches in his chair. “Some days it is overwhelming. Anyway, Catherine and Joseph prove even better at market than Papa did. After that big yield, they created trade deals with the folks at market. The children come back from that first trip to market with double the trade connections than Papa. So, now, there is also the expectation that the herds will yield as much as they did that first year.”

I rub my hand across my head. “That does add some pressure. I couldn’t imagine trying to keep that pace as an expectation every year. Why not just focus on a normal yield and plan for that?”

“Because, Edward, market often fills up fast. So, if you have a bigger year than usual, you often end up just having those extra lambs and cows around because there is no place for them to go. You just end up having to take care of more livestock. They had to plan for a larger yield than Papa did. The children just impregnated more livestock than Papa, so they would likely have a greater yield. However, every impregnation producing so many offspring was unexpected. However, the children have continued with such yields. Their growth has been and continues to be exponential. It’s incredible. You just wouldn’t believe it.”

I laugh. “I suspect I wouldn’t. Still, I am glad for their success. They have some good teachers to learn adaptation from.”

Alfred rubs his beard. “Yes, their success is impressive. They have done a remarkable job. Papa and I discuss all the time how proud he is of their growth. They are spectacular. Some days it is just overwhelming.”

I shrug. “I’m sure of that. With this growth rate, have Catherine and Joseph had to reach out for help?”

Children React

Piecing things together.

No spark issues from the fireplace at L & L pub this time. There’s no one else in the place to make a sound. Even I sit, leaned forward in my chair looking at Alfred. The whole room feels alert to Alfred and these children.

Alfred straightens against the back of his chair. He smirks. “Well, the silence hung in the barn for a moment or two. Catherine and Joseph glance back and forth at one another for a moment. Then, Catherine squeals. She thanks her father for this opportunity with an exclamation that she will not disappoint. She will improve on the farm and make her father proud. She points out what she has done with the sheep and the struggles Joseph had with the cows. She knows that she has got this. She reigns in a bit and asks if she can keep the sheep.”

I laugh leaning back in my chair. “That’s as it should have been. Catherine starting first and knowing that she will succeed where Joseph fails. How wonderful that she has that confidence.”

Alfred slouches a bit. “Well, then you will love this next part. Joseph raises an eyebrow in her direction. He agrees that they should divide the sheep and cows between them. He says this makes the most sense because that is where their experience lies. Joseph asks whether they should then keep the land divided the way it is. Catherine can set up her farm on the Western side where the sheep are grazed while he takes the Eastern side. That should ease the pressure on my sister. Papa shook his head at his children and accepted these terms.”

I close my eyes and nod. “Yeah, I’m sure Papa hoped for a little more cooperation. Joseph just takes over the details, right? He has the plan for execution while Catherine just focuses on the execution.”

“That is exactly how it happened. Papa looked like he saw this coming, despite some hope to the contrary as you say. Joseph recognizes that they will need Papa’s help to get on their feet. He asks Papa if they can continue to use his barn until they get others constructed. Catherine launches into building a bigger barn for the sheep because they will grow under her. She points out that she has learned weaving from Mother too. So, she will add that to the back of her barn. This will create greater efficiency since all the work will be done in one place.

“Joseph tempers his sister a bit by asking where she will build her house. He talks over her answer by proposing that he could build his house on that Eastern hill. That way, his farm could expand south into the valley while still giving him an overlook. Catherine assures Joseph that she already thought of that.”

I chuckle. “Ah, so their spat continues.”

Alfred seizes on that. “Of course, it does. It never ended just got more fuel. They received more things to play with. The conversation passed exactly as I am sure you would expect. Catherine continued to predict all that she could do with the sheep, and Joseph had the whole transition planned out by the time the meeting was over. The whole exchange was one child showing the other how to build from here veiled in outdoing the other.”

“Yep, that sounds about right. They focused on what interested them while the other actually helped them with their own project. I realize neither would admit this.”

Alfred laughs this time. “You have it. Anyway, after a moment of this, they both pause. They turn to me in a unison that I did not think them capable of. Catherine again speaks first and asks if she could still depend on my help with her barns. Joseph actually admitted his sister was right and asked if he could expect some help himself.”

I smile. “Well, that had to make you feel good.”

“Oh, it was certainly nice. I was grateful for the acknowledgement. I had not thought I helped them that much. I tried to be more like Papa – just let them do their thing and help the falls. Apparently, I was more hands on than I thought.”

“Of course, you were. You did the same for Papa. You see what help needs to be done, and you do whatever needs to be done. Let’s be honest: that farm wouldn’t have succeeded without you.”

“You know? Papa said the same thing after the children asked for my help. Papa did not even give me a chance to reply. He just told them that they could absolutely count on my help.”

I nod. “Good for Papa. So, it was a couple of days after that meeting when you visited me last, right?”

Papa’s Announcement

Editing away

Alfred gazes out into the shadows around our lit corner in the back of L & L pub. The fire draws his attention for a moment. It still burns as brightly as it can. He pops his neck from side to side. “I took the stool between Catherine and Joseph when we finally settle for the meeting. Basically, all I did was sit there and listen to Papa as much as the children. I glanced at them every now and again, but I could not really get a read on them.”

I look around at the now vacant pub and remember my gratitude to Ralph and Rebecca for letting us stay. That was really nice of them. I turn my focus back to Alfred. “So, did Papa just come out and tell them what was on his mind?”

Alfred shakes his head. “Of course not. Papa was in too reflective a mood at this point. He began by remembering all that he and I accomplished with the farm. Sweat began to form on his brow from the heat of the day. He recalled the day he brought the animals home. He tells his children of all the struggles of building barns and letting the animals clear themselves a spot in the land. He mentions moving from milking both the sheep and the cows to milking just the cows. He details every improvement and modification which we did on the farm. He lays out every initial trade deal and the trials there. Toward the end, I think he even got a little emotional.”

I nod. “Of course, he did. Y’all did a lot of work over many years. I figure that was a lot to reflect on in just a brief moment. I’m sure you felt a little bit of it too.”

Alfred shrugs. “I did. You have a point. It was wonderful to hear all of that recapped and think about my part in it. Papa made sure to include everything that he thought I did to help once I joined. He really made me out to be a fantastic helper.”

I tense my brow and close my eyes. “I’m glad you got to hear those things. Alfred, let’s face it. The farm would not be what it is without your help. Both under Papa’s supervision and now with the children in charge.”

Alfred stares into the table. “Anyway, Papa spends a moment then to celebrate his children. He talks about the joy of having them around. He mentions how much help they have been as they have grown up. He details how they have grown into each new role and thanked them for taking each task in hand. His posture straightened with a smile bigger than I have seen in years.”

I roll my glass in my hand. “A proud daddy no doubt. The children really did well under his guidance. He had a lot to teach them, and they learned more attentively than it seemed at times, I’ll wager.”

“I suppose you’re right about that. I forget that they did keep things going despite all the bickering. Papa recognized that too. He did warn them about taking care of each other as much as the animals. They are family even if they don’t always like each other.

“Then, Papa took a step back and stated that he wants them to run the farm themselves. He reminds them that they really have been doing most of the work themselves for a couple of years. He hopes they will continue to learn new lessons while not forgetting the ones learned so far. He promises them that he will still be around for help and guidance should they want or need it. With that said, he walked over to the one open stool in front of our group and sat down.”

I inhale deeply with wide eyes. “Well, he did finally state it very flatly then. Just threw it out there for everybody.”

Alfred nods looking me in the eye. “Yeah, after all the build-up, he just stated his intention and sat down. There was no room for discussion about him having decided this. Just put it out there and waited. I remember him looking composed by that point, but I promise that he was still a bit emotional.”

“I guess so. How would the children respond? I can only imagine what might have been rolling around his mind as he waited. That’s a lot of pressure to leave hanging in a room.”

“I agree. The children undoubtedly guessed what was coming after all that build up. Still, to hear their father propose that had to come as a surprise.”

“So, how did the children react?”

Family Meal

“What does ‘seconds’ even mean? I’ve never heard of that before.” Chuck inquires as he dumps a pot of peas into the strainer in the sink.

Leonard laughs. “Are you still hung up on that?” Leonard strikes a match to light one of the coal lamps on the wall. Leonard converted the reception area of the former garage into a family kitchen. “Well, in my day, seconds was for products that didn’t pass quality control.”

Emma smiles at her brother while she cracks some peanuts. “Daddy, you did ask what stood out to us today. Chuck’s just answering the question.” She turns on one of the eyes on the range and greases a pan.

Chuck tosses the peas in the strainer. “Yeah, Dad, I’m just answering the question. Being called a ‘second’ stood out to me. I don’t know the term. Are you telling me that they believe we can’t pass inspection?”

Leonard finishes lighting the lamps. He walks around the wood paneled counter between the dining and cooking areas. “I don’t know what they meant by calling us that either. That’s the only meaning I can come up with. They have a point though, don’t they? We certainly don’t look like any other family.”

“We certainly do not. I refuse to join one of these camps. They just seem kind of stuffy.” Emma adds as she dumps her peanuts in the greased pan.

“That group we helped today sure had a lot of opinions about how we’re goofy for what we are doing.” Chuck hands his sister the strainer of peas.

Emma thanks him for the peas and adds them to the pan. The grease crackles with the peanuts and peas. Leonard nods his head at Chuck. “They certainly weren’t even very subtle about those opinions, were they? Well, I don’t care. I’m really proud of the work y’all did today. Chuck, I think you overwhelmed Darrel. I’m still not sure he knows what to do with you. The way you handled that generator was brilliant.”

Chuck bows his head as he puts the strainer back in the sink and begins washing dishes. “Thanks, Dad. I had a good teacher. Let’s not forget Emma. You impressed that woman with cleaning up some of the debris around the rooms.”

Leonard nods at Emma. “Yeah, Emma, they have brand new rooms almost. I couldn’t believe it turned out that well.”

Emma nearly overturns the pan as she stirs the food. “Well, thanks, guys. I am glad someone suggested that I bring extra rags. I think they will really appreciate having a back stock. Chuck, I think Daddy is overlooking how he handled Avery. I think any conversation with Avery would have gone different if we were on our own.”

Chuck washes the dishes in the full sink and turns to point at his father. “That’s right, Dad. You did some good work too. You gave us the room to work. I appreciate you distracting Avery. I bet he could really have bogged me down fixing that generator.”

Leonard shrugs a bow. “Thanks, y’all. It’s amazing how the slightest connection can smooth conversation. How’s the food coming, Emma?”

“Oh, I just need some plates, and we are ready to eat.” Emma says as she pokes the concoction in the pan.

Both Leonard and Chuck move to grab some plates. Leonard pats Chuck on the shoulder. “Chuck, why don’t you finish up those last couple dishes?”

Chuck shrugs and dives back into the sink of dishes. “Sure thing.”

Leonard pulls three plates from a cabinet between Chuck and Emma. He sets the plates on the counter. “Here you go. Do you want more, or would you prefer bowls?”

Emma looks between the plates and the pan. “Bowls would be better for tonight.”

Leonard puts the dishes back and grabs three bowls before sliding the stack to Emma. She begins filling the bowls with the peas and peanuts. “Daddy, you really did well, too, on that garden. Something about not foraging for supplies seems like it eases the pressure on us.”

Leonard takes two full bowls to the square table on the other side of a counter. “Thanks, Emma. I know that working the garden is not a favorite task. I kind of like not having to search for supplies on a daily basis too. How are those dishes coming, Chuck?”

Chuck puts the last dish on a drying rack next to the sink. He crosses to the table. “Just finished myself. Looks like some good timing.”

Emma laughs as she joins them at the table. “It sure does. I guess we work pretty well together.”

Leonard nods before leading his family in a prayer, and they dive into the food. Conversation continues about the day’s work and the people they met. Leonard connects the events of the day to memories of him and his wife. Chuck and Emma laugh at these stories. They don’t remember anything of their mother. The children comment on the groups that they met today. They express a lack of understanding about how these groups remain together even in the face of such chaos.

Leonard pushes back from the table. “Emma, Chuck, excellent job on the food tonight. That was a nice meal. Who’s taking first watch tonight?”
Emma looks back at the dirty dish on the counter. “Well, I have some cleaning to do, so I will have to pass on that.”

Leonard shrugs. “And, Chuck took the last watch yesterday, so maybe he should take the first watch tonight?” Leonard stands and takes his empty bowl to the sink.

Chuck rises from the table and joins his dad at the sink. “I don’t mind the late watch. There’s little going on at that point.”

“Well, that’s okay. You take the first one tonight, Chuck. You can put Emma on the second one, and I’ll take the third one tonight. It seems like my turn anyway.”

Emma laughs as she adds her bowl to the sink. She puts a hand on Chuck’s shoulder. “Chuck, it sounds like Daddy has a plan. You know that there’s no disputing that. So, just go on and start your watch. I’ll take care of the remaining dishes and be in my room when it is my turn.”

Chuck sighs. “Yeah, you have a point, Emma. Fine, I’m off to see what’s happening.”

Family Meeting

Me negotiating with the computer.

The fire sparks behind its grate in the wall next to our table in the back corner of L & L pub. I scan the encroaching shadows, but no ember seems to escape the hearth. I tell Alfred that I’ll return in a moment. I cross into the shadows from our little circle of light provided by two lamps on the wall. The grate pulls away from the mantle easily. I add a couple of logs to the fire before walking back to our table.

I settle back into my chair while taking a sip from my glass of whiskey. The light from the fire moves the shadows back from the tables a bit. “So, Alfred, did you have the meeting the next day as Papa planned?”

Alfred laughs trying to ease his whiskey out of his beer glass. “Has anything gone according to Papa’s plan to this point?”

I chuckle. “No, I suppose it hasn’t completely.”

“Right, Edward, so we did have the meeting but not as Papa planned. I remember that day was hot. It was the hottest day that summer. I was working in the barn with Joseph and just beginning to think about going to the house. We milked the cows in this open space at the back of Papa’s barn. Both Joseph and I were a bit disappointed by all the wool left on the floor. Catherine had sheared sheep that morning and rushed out before I could convince her to clean up.”

I interrupt. “Well, Joseph would be there milking the cows, right? So, she had to get out of there.”

Alfred purses his lips but still smiles. “Yeah, you’re right about that. Anyway the barn door rushes open. We hear many complaints from the other end about the sheep not wanting to leave the fields yet. Catherine is explaining to Papa that their whole schedule will be thrown off. They will be difficult for days now. She can’t believe Papa is making her come back from the fields. She even tried to use me as an excuse. ‘Alfred will have to work twice as hard tonight to feed them and get them to sleep.’”

“Well, she isn’t wrong about that.”

“Oh, I know, but honestly it was just a ploy to avoid being in the barn. Anyway, Papa moves ahead of her and opens the first pen for the sheep. Catherine huffs and guides the first group into their pen. The sheep actually do better than I expected. They flow right into their places. I guess even the morning sheering did not help with the heat. They might have been glad to get out of the sun.

“Then, Papa herds Catherine toward the back of the barn. Joseph and I greet them. Joseph quickly turns to Papa and asks for an explanation of the change in schedule. Papa says he has something to tell his children. He looks at me and looks around the barn. ‘Actually, this will work as well as anywhere.’ I nod moving to grab some stools for everyone.”

I move to pour another glass. Alfred sees me lean forward and pauses. So, I look up from my glass. “Good move trying to make people as comfortable as possible. How did Joseph react?”

Alfred smiles while widening his eyes. “As Joseph would. He looks around the milking area. He agrees with the plan, asks for a moment to move the cow back to its pen. On his way, he kicks every piece of wool. When he comes back, he sighs and says that they might be more comfortable if the wool was cleaned up. Catherine balks at this with some excuse about the sheep being really difficult that morning and just not having the time.”

“Oh, I’m sure Papa loved that excuse with what’s on his mind.”

Alfred laughs. “He smirked at Catherine and told her that now was as good a time as any to fix the place. We all pitched in to clean the wool. Even Joseph grabbed a broom and swept a bit.”

“I’m glad to see that the family can come together on occasion.”

“Yeah, when necessary, the sister and brother can cooperate more than one might give them credit for doing. I worked close to Papa and took the opportunity to ask him again if he’s sure about this. I just saw this as another reason to delay this move. But, Papa shook his head. He made some point about them never being really ready. He reminds me of how unprepared we were and that the children have a better start than we did. I couldn’t really argue with that point.”

I nod. “Well, of course, you couldn’t. Papa has made the decision again, so how did you help with the announcement?”

Children’s Turn

Movement from the shadows snatches our attention. Ralph walks over to the fire and puts on a couple more logs. “Gentlemen, we are going to leave it with you.” Ralph drags himself back to the bar, loops his arm around Rebecca, and they leave through the swinging door behind the bar.

The fire jumps back to life pushing the shadows back from the tables. It warms the room nicely. Alfred and I still sit in our circle of light. We say good night to Ralph and Rebecca. I knew that Papa Burbanks struggled with the herds, but Alfred never told me before about the successes Papa had.

Alfred nods rubbing his beard. “Right, so after many years of Papa and I working the herds, he comes out to the barn one night. I’m in shock. Papa never comes out to the barn at night. I ask him if everything is okay. He looks tense and shakes his head. He walks around all the pens. A few of the animals come up for pats. Papa smiles at them. I see the recognition of all the work we’ve done as he pets the animals. I just watch him circle the barn in silence.

“Finally, after Papa ignores some of my questions, he turns to me with a long face. ‘Alfred, I think it is time.’ Time? Time for what? I could not imagine what Papa had on his mind to do next.”

I chuckle a bit. “Well, how could you? I mean he just shows up one day and decides to start a farm. Who could know what he is planning next?”

Alfred nearly chokes on his whiskey chuckling. “He could have said anything. He might want to bring in more animals, move the whole thing somewhere else, or admit to family troubles. I had no idea what was coming.

“So, he says that he thinks it is time to turn the farm over to the children. He wants to give each child one half of the valley. You see, Edward, there is a nice river that runs through the valley. Papa discovered many years ago that he could graze the sheep on one side and the cows on the other. The herds didn’t frighten each other this way. He learned to cut down on trampling deaths this way.”

I roll a hand with the palm up and nod my head. “That makes sense. Use what the land gives you. I think that was part of the idea behind the farm I visited out East.”

Alfred leans his head back and jerks it forward. “Yes, I can see that now. It certainly can ease the process in one’s mind. I ask Papa if he is sure about this decision. I remind him of his children and how they have reacted when herding the flocks to the grazing areas. He reminds me that we were always there to keep an eye on them. So, they could play around a bit. I concede that’s a thought. He continues that they will never really learn until it is on them. Much like, he adds, we didn’t learn how to care for the animals until we had to do it.”

I acknowledge Papa’s point. “That seems fair. We can learn all kinds of lessons while in training, but we never figure out the function of those lessons until we have to practice them.”

Alfred shrugs. “I realize Papa has made the decision. All I can do now is help. I ask what he wants done.

“He informs me that he wants a family meeting tomorrow afternoon. Now, he can make sure that Catherine gets there because she will likely be grazing the sheep at that time. I will need to get Joseph to the meeting because he will likely be milking at that point. Papa says that he will lay the plan out there for them and see what they choose to do with it.

“With those instructions given, Papa walks out of the barn. I am left with the sound of sleeping animals and a sense of unease. What will the children think of this? How will they answer this challenge?”

I purse my lips staring at Alfred. “You must have run through many possibilities. I can only imagine the kinds of scenes that became possible in that moment.”

Alfred’s eyes glaze over while he nods his head. “It was a long night, for sure. What was one farm would become two. Each child would get their half of things with their father’s blessing. Remembering our struggles, I could never anticipate what the children would do with it.”

“The children sound like they did much better than expected. Let’s remember that they had some great teachers. I mean they had plenty of time to learn from the mistakes you and Papa made. So, what happened at the meeting?”

Papa Gets Help

The fire at L & L pub still burns in the middle of the wall. It yields a bit to the shadows around the seating area. Alfred and I continue to sit in our little pool of light at the back corner of the place. Ralph and Rebecca haven’t yet finished their wine. They remain chatting quietly at the bar.

Alfred pours himself a bit of whiskey into the bottom of his beer glass. “Yeah, once the farm was a bit more settled, Papa started to think that maybe he could use some help keeping things in order. He ran into some lady at market one day. They struck up a conversation. She waited on him every time he went to market, and he wrote her constantly. They decided to get married. She moved into the house and learned to weave wool. So, she was making clothes. That ended one trade deal at market, but it opened others because now they had a finished product to sell. That transition was the easiest one that the farm has seen. She really brought new life to the place. Literally, in the case of Joseph Peter and Catherine Hana.”

I clink my glass against Alfred’s. “Here’s to finding a partner for life.”

Alfred nods. “Agreed. It is a beautiful thing to witness. With a new bride, Papa decides to get some help for the flocks too. He would like a little more time at home at night.”

“Right, so he calls his unattached, younger brother. I was glad when he did that. You really grew in that position. I’m not sure that I remember what you were doing before the farm. I do know that you really found a purpose helping with those herds.”

Alfred shrugs. “I was really happy that my brother asked me to help out with the herds. I was excited to join such a passionate project especially with family.”

I smile while leaning onto the table. “But you didn’t like where Papa put you initially?”

Alfred shakes his head. “He had me on late night barn duty. He would take the herds out at daylight, bring them back at sunset, and then they would be my responsibility. I had to milk the cows and make sure the groups didn’t kill each other. I thought the work very tedious. I realized though that I could help Papa get some control of the herds by making them comfortable in the barn. I noticed that certain levels of grain and bedding made them easier to handle in the fields. So, I learned what role I played in everything. That’s when I started to appreciate where I was.”

I point a finger at Alfred’s chest. “Isn’t it amazing what happens when we find that spot? I recall the story of a missionary that was at first captured by a group of people. He sought every way possible to escape from that place. But, he ends up choosing to go back to those people because he saw serving them as the only thing to do.”

Alfred snorts. “And you want to tell me that your memory isn’t that good? How do you remember all these stories? I guess you have just told some of them so many times.”

I smirk. “Once again, sometimes the conversation just reminds me of different things. Something just connects and out comes the story.”

Alfred stares out at the shadows in front of the the bar. “Anyway, so that’s how the farm went. Everything grew as Papa worked on it. He managed the pieces to stay the size he wanted. We worked together. The children joined us doing only small tasks when their age allowed. Papa was more patient with the children than the livestock. He had no problem repeating directions as many times as it took. Though he wasn’t afraid of a firm hand when mistakes got too out of hand.”

I laugh. “Yes, you mean the incident of using milking time to work on target practice?”

Alfred leans his head back and closes his eyes. “I had forgotten that incident, but yes Papa was unhappy about that one. What possessed them to try to squirt one another while milking a cow is beyond me.”

I shrug. “Well, that’s what children do, right? They just push as far as you will let them.”

Alfred purses his lips. “Those two certainly pushed whatever boundary was given to them. They did better than the sheep though at keeping their balance and not truly falling into anything.”

“Well, that’s good. I would imagine pulling children out of holes would be much noisier than pulling sheep out of holes.”

Alfred laughs. “I don’t know about that, Edward. Sheep can make an awful lot of noise.”

“All right, so, the farm is growing along, as are the children. But where are we now? I’m curious if the children have divided the farm on their own terms or was that Papa’s idea?”

Papa’s Farm

Alfred turns his chair sideways and crosses his legs. He looks out into the shadowed light beyond our little circle then leans back against his chair. “I suppose – knowing you – that I should start from the beginning.”

“That’s usually the best place to start.” I pour me another glass of whiskey.

Alfred nods. “So, do you remember what I’ve told you in the past about Papa’s farm?”

I shrug. “Let me think.” I roll my glass and delve into the recesses of my mind. “I recall something about Papa Burbanks focusing on livestock. Maybe there was something about sheep and cows? Perhaps, Papa has a house on the hill overlooking one valley? He could use that valley to graze sheep on one side and cows on the other. That’s about all I can think of.”

Alfred laughs with a shake of his head. “I, in no way, believe your memory is that spotty. But fine. Papa loves livestock. He thought the herds roaming the hills were just the ideal thing to do. So, one day he decides to get into raising livestock.”

I nod. “Did you ever come up with an explanation for that decision?”

Alfred gulps his beer. “I most certainly did not. As far as I can tell, it sounded to him like the thing to do. So, that’s what he did. He went to a nearby market, bought some ewes and a ram, and brought them back to his home.”

“That’s right. I couldn’t remember which came first, but it was the sheep. I made some joke about him being too old to be anointed king.”

“Yes, you did make that joke. But, anyway, the first years were just Papa and his sheep. He grew the first group into a nice little herd. He managed to learn how to spin wool and butcher the animals.”

I raise a finger to stop Alfred. “He found a way to bottle sheep’s milk too, right?”

Alfred points at me with a nod of his head. “Oh, that’s right. He did figure that out. You wouldn’t believe the mess he made figuring that out.”

“I bet. I hear an utter, especially on a sheep, is hard to deal with.”

Alfred laughs. “Well, anyway, Papa trades the sheep stuff for food and clothing. He worked out a deal with a clothier who would make him clothes as long as he brought some extra wool. Papa needed many years before he had enough sheep for that kind of wool yield, but he did finally figure it out.

“The sheep continued to multiply slowly. After some more years, Papa had more sheep than he needed to trade for food and clothing. So, he got another wild idea: ‘why don’t I get some cows too?’ To answer your next question: No, I don’t know why he decided that was a good idea either.”

I nod. “Right, cause he had more than just milking troubles with the sheep. If I remember one of our previous conversations, you told me the sheep ran all over the place and almost refused to recognize his voice. Even the ones birthed on his farm didn’t want to cooperate.”

Alfred smirks at me. “See I knew your memory wasn’t that bad.”

I laugh. “Sometimes things come back to me in the flow of conversation.”

Alfred chuckles. “He fought those sheep every step of the way. He pulled all of them from holes or cliffs at some point. Often it was the same sheep in the same hole. I never imagined he had the patience for it.”

“So, then, Papa bought the cows. He figured out relatively quickly that they couldn’t occupy the same space as the sheep. More than a couple of the sheep got trampled when they startled the cows. Finally, he added a bull. He ends up forgetting the milk sheep. Instead he settles for milking cows. Apparently, they were more cooperative. The cows were a welcome change for Papa. They were slower moving and less adventurous.

“He improves his butchering skills on both animals. Trade deals result from that. So, he builds a very comfortable life on the hill. The herds continue to fight him, and he seems to enjoy the fight as much as any other part of the job.”

I smile. “That’s good. I’m glad to hear that he enjoys the work. Sounds a little complicated to me. I can’t even care for my house without some help. But, Papa did get some help at some point, right?”

Finding Distractions

“So, we are Seconds, huh?” Chuck laughs after a couple of blocks. The sun burns down on them. Their clothes cling to them in the humidity. In fact, walking may be more like swimming at this point.

Leonard glances over his shoulder. “Yeah, apparently we are. I’m worried about those boys. They just look like they are up to no good.”

Emma shakes her head. “Maybe they just heard about us helping some folks. I hope they are just looking for help.”

Chuck looks sideways at his sister. “Or maybe they just have a plan to advance their cause. They could see the opportunity to really make a name for themselves with their faction.”

Leonard nods. “Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of. Seems like they have more of an idea than they let on.” Leonard shifts the weight of his pack with a snort. “Well, can’t worry about them too much right now. We just need to keep moving. We have a long way to go.”

A crash follows a scream out of one of the buildings to their left. Emma stops and gasps in that direction. “Y’all, we have to go see what that’s about. Come on.” She rushes over to the front door of the building before Leonard and Chuck can catch up.

“Stop.” Leonard calls before Emma can open the door. Chuck and Leonard have their packs off in the next second. They open the packs and dig into the top pouch. They each pull out a revolver and slide it into their pockets.

Chuck nods at Leonard. “Okay, Emma, go ahead.”

Emma yanks open the door. “Is everyone okay in here?” She squints against the darkness inside.

A woman stands next to a fallen generator. Six others surround her. A tall, wide man turns around with a snarl. “We are fine. The generator just fell over. We’ll get it back to working again.” He moves over and looms over Leonard. “We can handle this on our own. You can go find your own generator.”

Leonard smacks his lips. “We aren’t looking for a generator. Where were you planning on hooking this thing up?”

A younger man with a smaller frame looks back at Leonard. The man turns back to the spokesperson. “Look, Avery, we have a long way to take this thing. No one here is even sure we can hook this thing up. Maybe we should take some help. Not too often you get help in this world anymore.” This younger man walks over to Leonard and looks him over. “They call me Darrell. You know anything about generators?”

Leonard shrugs. “I know a little bit. My boy, Chuck, here knows more about them than I ever did. Maybe he could help you out?”

Darrell swallows hard. He looks back at Avery. “What do you think, Avery?”

Avery spits off to the side. “They could just be another bunch of Labocrats looking to steal this generator. You remember what happened when we let that last group in here. They stayed with us two days and next thing you know we are without power.”

Darrell shrugs. “Well, look. That generator is actually where it needs to be. Other than standing it up. You can see the rest of the wiring hanging from the ceiling.”

Leonard and Chuck stare at the cables before Chuck nods his head. “Yeah, we can make that work.”

Darrell leads Leonard and Chuck over to the generator. Darrell points Avery and a boy around the generator.

The woman that called out moves over to Emma. The woman whispers, “Y’all ain’t no Labocrats are you?”

Emma shakes her head. “No, ma’am. We just heard your scream and got concerned is all.” Emma spins a foot in the dirt and watches her feet. “So, you claim allegiance to the Servicans?”

The woman nods her head. “Yep, we have earned everything we’ve got. That’s the way it ought to be. You have to work for what you get in this world. Call me Hannah.”

Emma smiles up at Hannah. “We certainly hear about work a lot around here. No problem with working if you are able.”

Hannah pats Emma on the back. “That’s right. A good day’s work makes sure our camp has everything it needs. Look the boys got the generator up.”

The generator claps to the floor as the men get it in place. They all take a step back and stare at Chuck. Chuck looks from side to side and sets his pack on the ground. “Okay, gentlemen, I need one person to help me out. Darrell, would you explain to me what cable connects to what outlet?”

While Chuck and Darrell get to work, Leonard and Avery take a step back. Darrell points to some of the cables before Chuck starts putting them into the generator. Avery glances at Leonard with a pursed smile. “So, what about those Labocrats? Complete waste of time, right? I mean have you ever gotten a hand out before?”

Leonard smiles at his two children. “Oh, I’ve got a couple of good gifts in my lifetime. Just look at those two kids there. They have filled my life with good things.”

Avery nods at Leonard. “I like you. You understand work and have a good family mind. What camp are you with?”

Leonard shakes his head. “Really haven’t found one since coming to the city. Still just kind of wandering around. Emma there doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. She says this is an opportunity to go see the world. I tell her that we just need to pick a place. But, you know children, they just have their own mind.”

Avery slaps Leonard on the back. Avery says he knows what Leonard is saying. He had to fight hard to settle his family here. The camp in this two-story building is pretty small. They manage to survive though. Everyone else is out gathering supplies while they work on the building. Avery’s little group has a great set up he says. “Everyone works hard, so we provide for ourselves even in this chaos.”

Leonard smiles at Avery. Chuck wipes the sweat off his brow and throws a switch. All of the lights come back on. Chuck puts his tools back in his pack. “Well, that looks like it will work.”

Darrell shakes Chuck’s hand. “Thanks for that. It would have taken me all day to get that done.”

Avery looks over the work and mentions some other tasks that could be done. Leonard shrugs before agreeing to look at the other jobs.

L & L Shuts Down

L & L pub is now deserted. The glow from the fire and lamps on the wall keeps the place visible and welcoming. Rebecca scans the place with a yawn. She walks through the swinging door behind the bar and returns with a small bucket and a rag. Ralph watches this with a smile. He turns to the sink behind the bar. A tall mound of glasses flows over the top of the sink. Ralph lines them up on the bar while running some water in the now empty sink.

Alfred drains the last drop of his latest beer. “Excuse me, Edward. I will be right back.” Alfred takes his empty beer glass over to the bar. He moves behind the counter while turning on the tap to fill the glass. “Ralph, I know we are staying late. I appreciate you and Rebecca keeping the lights on for us. I do hope you will go to bed when you want to. You know that Edward and I could be at this awhile.”

Ralph laughs as Alfred cuts off the tap just before the beer gushes over the top. “Well, obviously, you don’t need me here. Rebecca looks like she just started in that direction. It doesn’t look like we’ll see anyone else tonight anyway.”

Alfred toasts Ralph. “I will make sure we clean up whatever we use.”

Ralph looks over Alfred’s shoulder at me. I tip my glass in his direction. “That’s right, Ralph. You and Rebecca’ve been very kind to us this evening. We don’t want to impose longer than necessary, so you just head out when you get ready. I agree that we will wash whatever we use.”

Ralph looks over at Rebecca. She is adeptly washing the tables off. She pauses every now and again to scrub some really persistent stain. Ralph smiles sideways at Alfred. “Do you hear that, Dear? It appears that Edward will be staying the night, and he doesn’t even plan to pay for a room. Plus, they’re going to use our dishware for their sleepover.”

Rebecca finishes the last table which is conveniently the one next to our table. “Oh, sure, Ralph. You had to know that was coming when Edward showed up so late and was expecting a visitor. I hope you already have a couple extra bottles in the back for tomorrow. You know these freeloaders will just drink it all.”

Ralph laughs. “Well, that works, gentlemen. You know where everything is. Since Rebecca doesn’t have a problem with you staying, neither do I. Besides, I agree with Rebecca: it wouldn’t be the first time that Edward has closed us down on account of a visitor.”

Alfred gasps and clutches his chest. “Edward, you do this with other visitors? I didn’t think you knew anyone else. And, here, I thought I was special.”

Rebecca pats me on the shoulder. “Oh, you’re special all right, Alfred. We’re just not sure what kind of special.”

I laugh. “She does have a point, Alfred. I mean rarely do I get out this late at night to come visit a friend and have this much trouble finding out what is happening.”

Alfred grunts and grabs one bottle of the winter whiskey. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Because if I did hear it, I might forget to be nice and bring you this bottle.”

Rebecca laughs while moving back toward the bar. She shakes her head at Alfred in passing as she moves back through the swinging door. She returns this time with a lamp snuffer. She starts in my direction. “I’m going to leave the ones on either side of your table burning. I don’t want to be using too much oil, but I couldn’t sleep if I left you boys in the dark.”

Alfred walks back to our table and sets the bottle in the middle. “Thank you, Rebecca.”

Rebecca nods her head before walking around the vacant seats between the door and the bar. She snuffs the other six lights. The glow from the fire casts shadows over the place as its light fights back the darkness. Rebecca returns to the bar.

Ralph pulls two wine glasses from under the bar. A red wine fills both glasses. Rebecca slides onto a bar stool, and Ralph just leans across next to her. They settle into conversation about the day’s business.

I take a deep breath. “They really are the nicest barkeeps that I know of.”

Alfred nods gazing into his beer. “This county would be lost without them. Sometimes people just need a place to step back.”

“Right, Alfred, and that is why we are here now. So, what’s happening with Papa Burbanks’ farm. Have the children completely divided it?”