He drifted in and out of that state of consciousness that was not quite asleep, not quite awake. The sun was beginning to crest the loblolly and slash pine tops to his right and kiss the pasture beyond with its warmth. As twilight slowly relinquished its dominion once again, he was gently tugged away from his lull. Jake was not sure how long it had been since he had last heard the coffee perking, but even a bitter cup would be satisfying enough. He grabbed the long barreled revolver from the table beside him and slid it into the worn leather holster as he sauntered into the kitchen. A smile crept across his face as he poured the cup and stirred in the smallest amount of creamer. The percolator was just another small trespass against what was expected, and he enjoyed that.
His stroll back outside was more purposeful as he began to feel the coffee’s effects. Jake gripped the revolver and slid it back on the table as he surveyed the back of his property and the adjoining pastures. It was peaceful and inviting – everything the world had ceased to be. The spring fog acted like a blanket over the distant pond in front of him. Several wood ducks quacked amongst themselves as they meandered aimlessly across the water, occasionally dipping beneath the surface for a minnow or maybe some pond weed. He could faintly see a few white oaks beyond the fog and pines, as the fields briefly gave way to the stands of timber and eventually the hardwood swamp beyond. Satisfied with the serenity, he downed the last of his coffee and stepped off the deck to scan the rest of the property, and reflect.
“How did we ever get so far off the path?” he thought to himself. He knew the answer, even as he asked himself. It was incremental; the seemingly small choices a people make are what ultimately destroy it. The swings of society’s pendulum were almost always met with an equal and opposite force, but the nudges away from sanity always remaned. It was the nudges, the values of a wiser generation that never connected with their sons and daughters; the lessons of history that were lost or rewritten. He paused for a moment as he plucked a cold hardy mandarin and rubbed his thumb across the leathery and pitted skin as he continued on. One day, a point of singularity is finally reached: the nudges become shoves and reality seems to change in days and weeks rather than generations. A paradigm shift occurs before your eyes.
In one motion he lobbed the unripe citrus and lifted his hand to wave to Franklin Thames, his neighbor. Frank easily had three long decades on Jake. His skin was weathered by years of working the land and his world view was molded by the time spent in reflection of wars fought long ago that he was too young to understand in his youth. He wore faded brown overalls with a dusty, half-breed, western hat. Frank’s right arm cradled his ancient lever-action carbine and his left hand pinched a hand-rolled cigarette. Frank was standing over a heap in his pasture as he motioned Jake his way. Sasha, Jake’s German shepherd, was already with Frank, contently occupied with the thing firmly held in her mouth; he was the only other man Sasha would tolerate. Jake had tried to break her from leaving, but if Frank was tending to the cattle, she would split time between the two men. Jake eventually relented, partly because he knew Frank appreciated her keeping watch while he worked.
Jake spread the barbed wire wide enough to duck through and approached the two; the heap on the ground now obvious to him. Frank took one last drag of the tobacco before stamping it out with the Cuban heel of his boot:
“Jake, what the hell are we going to do? This is the second one this month. I guess it’s finally made it here.”
Jake examined the partially field dressed calf, its most prized cuts crudely removed sometime the night before. The thing in Sasha’s mouth Jake had noticed from a distance was a bone of some sort that she had retrieved from the remains. “Frank, I’m sorry; we never heard a thing. How many calves does that leave you with?”
“Ten, but I expect them to be gone before much longer if I don’t make provisions to bring them in closer to the house. I don’t have the manpower to watch it all.”
“I heard from Mr. Gaston that a farm not far from here was attacked two nights ago; there was about six of them. The gunfire woke the neighbors; they started returning fire with rifles after they realized what was going on. They hit one of them; he bled out after his friends left him. The family didn’t even realize he was there until the next morning; everyone was too afraid to go outside.”
“Yea, I heard about that. The Sheriff showed up and took the body, but they didn’t even collect shell casings. Son, they’re trying damn hard to stem the tide and losing ground every day – we’re on our own out here.”