She laid the Ruger across her legs and then examined the marauder's pump shot gun. It was in poor condition, with surface rust spots. Same with the sheath knife. This man didn't take very good care of his gear she thought...or himself for that matter. She glanced back down the road where she'd dumped his corpse. Still, they might be salvageable, but the fact was, she just didn't have the energy to add one more bit of weight to her burden. She decided she would remove the shells and stash them and the knife and shotgun. Having a hidden cache in case she was disarmed or routed from her cabin made good sense. Whenever she came into extra bit of gear, like a knife or blanket, she'd set up a cache site. She had placed several throughout the valley. She sat and took water from her canteen and watched and listened. A few birds had come out and were chirping as normal...no alarm calls. That was good. The birds were perceptive and a reliable alarm system; anyone approaching with negative energy would usually set off a series of alarm calls.
A slight breeze was stirring. the clouds had broken up and now a bit of sun shone through the canopy, dappling the forest floor with splotches of light and shadow. The bit of warmth was appreciated and helped abate the chill she'd felt. From her pocket, Tamer removed a small pouch of Bay Laurel nuts she'd harvested, shelled and roasted in a cast iron skillet. They were thought to have a stimulant effect, but she graded it more like an energy booster, like Chia seed. She munched on the bitter nuts, which she wasn't especially fond of but considered a taste acquired out of simple necessity...kind of like when you were little and your folks made you eat your vegetables...not good, but good for you. Sometimes she'd grind up the Bay nuts into a powder and make a hot drink that somewhat resembled unsweetened chocolate. Real chocolate was a fading memory.
The Bay Laurel [Umbellularia] had become a significant stock-in-trade plant for her healer practice. It was used by aboriginal peoples for all kinds of issues. The leaves had medicinal properties and could be used as a cure for headaches, toothaches, and earaches. Poultices of Umbellularia leaves were used to treat rheumatism and neural pains. A tea made from the leaves could treat stomach aches, colds, sore throats, and clear up mucus in the lungs. Steeped in hot water, the leaves could make an infusion that was used to wash sores. You could even treat headaches by placing a leaf in the nostril and inhaling the fragrant plant oil.
The episode with Jim Pruitt in her first year following the pandemic had made her realize she was one of only a handful of humans remaining with any degree of medical training or knowledge of mammalian anatomy. Motivated, she'd made her way down the valley and acquired an old shopping cart and foraged her old veterinary workplace for what supplies she could find. The medical office had been looted, but she also knew there was a cabinet in a steel building used for large animal care, and there had found some undiscovered antibiotics, surgery instruments, and other useful items. Although only ten miles, That had been a multi-day trek.
On the return leg, she'd stopped off in the deserted Town of Felton and forced her way into the community library and carried off everything she could find on natural healing and medicinal botanics. Fortunately, Felton had been a kind of bastion of "60's flower Children" and the library had a respectable number of books on the topic. When time permitted...and there was abundant time....she explored the woodlands and riparian areas, identifying and gathering plants for testing. She stored leaves and other botanics in a mix of old Ball and Mason jars she had scrounged from homes and town.
Learning medicinal and edible plants had become an occupation with Tamer, and to some degree a passion. Nature had provided a remarkable bounty of useful plants...a virtual wild pharmacy and supermarket. She had studied books on the California natives and was amazed at the sophistication of their knowledge of useful plants; pain relievers for every ailment, laxatives, antidiarrheals , natural washes for cuts and sores, skin cleansers... something was available as a natural remedy for every human health issue.
Tamer learned that, Arroyo Willow for example, a native and very abundant riparian tree, held the active ingredient for Aspirin, Salyicic Acid, in its inner bark and leaves, and could be decocted into a tea. And then edibles....plants that met many of the bodies vitamin needs; Manzanita berries for example, high in Vitamin C. Or Miner's Lettuce, another abundant plant, high in Vitamins C, A, and Iron, used by Gold rush Miners to ward off Scurvy.
What was especially amazing to her was when she considered that these "primitive" people had existed for 13,000 years in this sustainable model, living in harmony with the earth, and only taking as much as they required. Then modern Europeans came and became the "Masters" if the earth and pretty much started using up it's resources in just 500 years or so. "Sad...it could've been so good", she thought, but it didn't matter now. Everything had changed, and man was back to square one, like having to rework a math equation you'd screwed up.
Tamer had stayed in communication with Jim Pruitt and Samantha, and they'd established communication and trading with other survivors in the Scotts Valley region. Over the course of the year, Tamer had established a reputation as a healer woman, and had bartered her skills for seeds, vegetables and other necessary items. The grocer down the valley, Bobby Parkins, had some very painful neuralgia-related issues and so Tamer had become his "G.P." of sorts and traded pain management care for goods. Tamer learned that Bobby resupplied his store by making extended road trips to search abandoned homes and shops to forage for supplies. He made his foraging expeditions using a small trailer he had rigged to his BMW motorcycle. Bobby was a lonely, sad-faced old man, but he always cheered up when Tamer came by. He liked to reminisce about his wife Hazel [Hazel had perished from the virus and was buried in back of the store]. He was kind and usually threw in an extra can of food for Tamer.
And Tamer had no illusions whatsoever that supplies would last forever; that someday, the supply of left over canned soups would evaporate, leftover antibiotics would lose their potency, and leftover clothing was finite, and then life would truly return to a primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Big game such as deer were cagey, rarely seen, and hard to ambush. To this end, she worked to increase her knowledge of primitive skills, teaching her self to fish and set primitive traps and snares to catch small game. Constantly battling caloric burn and diseases, it was easy to see why primitive peoples had such a short life expectancy and worked smarter to conserve calories. She managed to scrounge just enough to bind body and soul, but never felt completely free of hunger or worse yet, the fear of going hungry. Some days, there just wasn't anything to eat and life was at those times, unbearable...the hunger, the isolation, the loss of loved ones... and she'd break into tears and wail and then collapse exhausted. Then it was time to move on. Just an ongoing cycle of misery and recovery.
Rested, Tamer knew she had about 2 miles to cover to reach home. Using her fingers to measure the height of the sun, she realized she would be cutting it close to arriving home at about dusk, and decided to get a move on. She got to her knees and shouldered her pack, and slung the shotgun over her shoulder. She did a chamber check, confirmed the Ruger was hot, and stood. Slowly she worked her way out of the brush, a quiet step at a time, scanning as she went. Then, satisfied it was safe to proceed, left the brush and started back up the valley road.
When she'd walked another quarter mile she spotted a small knoll about a hundred meters or so off the side of the road and a stack of boulders next to it. It was a memorable hillock and a potentially good place for a hide. She dropped her pack and pulled out 2 plastic garbage bags and a roll of duct tape. She hiked out to the hill and inspected the rocks. They formed a small U-shaped wall surrounding a shallow depression. It appeared not only a good stash site, but a defensible position. Placing the shells, shotgun, and knife inside a bag, she rolled the bag and taped it, placed it inside the other bag and repeated the process. She then tapped the rocks to ensure no Rattlesnake was in them, as this was the cold period of the year in which they denned up. Hearing no response, she slipped the package into the rocks and moved a few to better conceal it. Satisfied, she recovered her pack and moved on, arriving home just as the sun began it's slide down behind the Coastal Mountain Range. She watched the sunset and wondered what life was like in those places where the sun was just rising.
Tamer had stopped on a rise in the road and climbed up the embankment alongside the road. It gave her some elevation and she could see her property and the road on either side. She spent some time glassing her cabin and the surrounding area, looking for any persons, or telltale signs of disturbance or an ambush. She studied her cabin closely and saw nothing moved or out of place. She looked beyond the cabin, up the canyon and saw nothing to be alarmed over. Satisfied, she moved on and entered her property, rifle held at a high ready. Her senses were peaked as she cleared the trees on approach to the cabin, swinging wide around it and scanning the whole 360 degrees. Finally, she decided to make entry. Just for a moment, she had the slightest bit of unease. She glanced back over her shoulder and took another look about her. "Was there something...?", she wondered. She shook it off, unlocked and opened the door and made entry and cleared the interior. Finding everything as she'd left it, she locked the doors and made a small meal before turning in for rest. Within a few minutes she was out.
Across the canyon, two men in camouflage clothing sat in brush on the hillside, looking down on the cabin. One man had a broken nose and the other a long grey beard. Greybeard watched Tamer through a pair of binoculars. "Is that her?" his broke-nosed companion asked in a whisper. Greybeard lowered his field glasses and stared incredulously. "Well it sure the fuck ain't Oprah Winfrey. Dumbass. Who else would it be?" Brokennose flushed, angry, but held his tongue.
They watched Tamer as she made her cautious approach to the cabin and cleared the property. After she'd gone inside, Greybeard whispered to broke-nose, "She's pretty good. Could be a problem," and rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully. He glassed the area a bit longer then said, "Ehh, she can't keep her guard up all the time. There'll be an opportunity to grab her. And grab her we will."
A hundred meters up the hillside, concealed in the brush above and behind the two men, a man sat silently watching through his own binoculars. His clothes were muted earth colors, and he had draped a Sniper's veil over his head and shoulders to break up his outline. His hard eyes, burning with anger and hate, watched the two men intently...
...like a Hawk.
TO BE CONTINUED......
Copyright © Manny Silva, 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.