SECRETS OF LIBERTY MOUNTAIN
Copyright 2018 by Nathan Wolf
All rights reserved.
NOTE: This story is a work in progress. New chapters will be added as they are completed. Your feedback as a reader is very much appreciated. Please vote and comment on the story when you are finished reading it. Thank you.
AUTHOR'S DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction intended for mature readers. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is too weird for words and 100% purely coincidental.
I stuffed my last cardboard box of personal belongings into the cargo hold of my girlfriend's Toyota Rav4, jumped into the passenger seat, and waited while she fussed over a map with directions to our new home. Darlene was like that - a stickler for details.
She flipped her shoulder-length hair out of her eyes for the umpteenth time and squinted to read the tiny letters. Mapmakers tended to hide the most critical information in the smallest print known to man.
Finally finished, she turned to me and smiled. "Let's go!" She put the Rav into drive, and we started on our way. We were going to start a new life off the grid.
Darlene was a smart, feisty, and petite brown-haired woman, just under five feet five inches tall, with small breasts, and a freckled baby face.
Her soft and innocent musical voice accented her thoughts with honey and desire. To me, she sounded like exotic ear-candy.
Darlene was more than she seemed and she used a different song for every mood and season. When angry, sarcastic sandpaper replaced honey as her words scoured lies and deceit away from facts until only the naked truth remained.
She’d allowed me to move in with her and we shacked-up to save money when my landlord evicted me because I refused to pay until he fixed the plumbing in my crappy apartment. He decided a new tenant would be cheaper than new plumbing. Darlene and I believed that two could live as cheaply as one. We were right, but only for half as long.
We met at a local tavern where we developed an unlikely May-December relationship. She played the part of May at the youthful age of thirty-five. I fulfilled the role of December at the tender age of sixty-mumble.
Through the process of elimination, we had become drinking buddies at our local tavern. I'm not sure "buddies" is the correct word. More often than not, we happened to be the last people still standing when the barkeep bellowed out, "Last call for alcohol!"
Initially, geography was our common bond. The tavern, built in the 1890s, featured a walnut and mahogany bar with an odd little 'L' shaped hook at the far corner of the saloon. The bar and a back wall of brick formed a naturally cozy little alcove large enough to accommodate three bar stools.
According to local legend, the original owner ordered the hook's construction to allow him to observe activities of untrustworthy bartenders while also keeping an eye on equally untrustworthy patrons. The voyeur and hermit in me loved the location, and I had it all to myself for several months until the day Darlene arrived. She also loved the strategic observatory.
At first I was annoyed at the invasion of my secret space. After awhile I looked forward to her company. Like commuters sharing an across town bus, we got used to each other's presence on the installment plan. Familiarity grew comfortable and gave way to conversation as we observed the ebb and flow of tavern life.
It all started with casual flirting. She flirted. I was casual.
Hell, she flirted with everyone: men, women, and even the bartender's mangy tomcat. While I enjoyed the sometimes risqué banter, I never considered Darlene as potential girlfriend material. She was a young vixen, and I was an old wolf. I amused myself trying to sneak a peek down her blouse or up her skirt when I thought she wouldn't notice.
One Friday night, the stars governing our relationship aligned like the bars on a slot machine. Heads turned as Darlene strutted into the tavern in a blur of legs, cleavage, and the predatory smile of a fox. Her outfit left little to the imagination. Her mini-dress must have been a belt in a previous life, and her tissue-thin blouse was unbuttoned down to her navel. She wore no bra.
"That's a nice outfit you are almost wearing." I did a double take when she hopped up on the barstool next to mine.
"Panties optional dress code?" I asked with a nod of my head as I filed that image into my long-term memory vault.
"Like it? I'm going to get laid tonight. One of these stud-muffins is going home with me," she chuckled with a little shiver and scanned the bar for targets of opportunity. I grimaced, envy flavored a bit oddly by jealousy. What a curious blend of emotions for a virtual stranger.
I did an inventory of my own.
Most of the men in the tavern looked like drop-outs from Blubber Buddies or some such weight watching group. I had recently gone from two hundred and fifteen pounds to a hundred and eighty-five. I felt authorized to gloat.
Wives or girlfriends escorted most of the men. Boyfriends escorted a few others. Darlene's field of viable targets was limited unless she lowered her standards or went in for a threesome.
I pitied the lucky guy who won Darlene's attention. She had the uncanny ability to read people like a book and play them like a deck of cards.
"Compliments of the house." Our curious barkeep did a visual inventory of his own as he set a beautifully mixed and handcrafted White Russian in front of Darlene.
She took a small sip and savored it like a gourmet. "Perfect!"
She tilted her head back and wolfed it down in one long gulp. Yikes! Talk about power drinking. Darlene hopped down from her seat and like Alexander the Great, set out to conquer the known world.
I had to admire her style. She was the Alpha-Fox loose in the hen house, radiating sexual availability like a neon sign in the night. Darlene was in a class by herself, and that was a problem. She sparkled like a diamond in a coal bin and scared the shit out of the men she approached.
If anything, she was too beautiful and too self-assured. The males she flirted with as she worked her way around the tavern were flattered, flustered, and fearful of her attention. None of them dared to take the bait.
After ten or fifteen minutes of flagrantly flirting, Darlene returned to her seat to regroup and refuel. Our bartender presented her with another complimentary White Russian as his sacrifice to the Gods of Wishful Thinking.
"Thank you so much. You are such a sweetheart. Can I have another one to keep this one company?" Darlene touched his hand, and if her smile had been any warmer, the barkeep would have erupted into flame.
A few moments later, our generous drink master returned with three tall White Russians. "One is for you and the other two are honor guards for the dead soldiers." He pointed to the two empty glasses.
"I love this drink." She inhaled the beverage, chugging it down in one long gulp. I raised one eyebrow in puzzlement. How can anyone love a drink without taking the time to appreciate the subtle by-play of flavors?
Thirst quenched for the moment, Darlene resumed her quest for tonight's bed partner. Her second expedition of seduction ended in bewildered frustration.
"What the fucking hell? I usually have to beat men off with a stick." Shaking her head in disgust, she demolished another White Russian.
"Maybe you should offer to beat them off with a stick, you know, fifty shades of kinky?"
Darlene’s eyes gave me a hard look. She was not amused. "Why? Do you want to get beat off with a stick?" she smiled before dispatching the last White Russian.
"Hell no! I hate splinters," I said.
"He shoots. He scores!" Darlene laughed as she raised her index finger and traced a point on the invisible blackboard in the air. "Nice one."
I shrugged my shoulders. I could feel the rising heat of a blush. I squirmed in my seat under her gaze. As Darlene studied me, her dark look of frustration gradually brightened, and her emerald eyes sparkled as her grim expression transformed into the predatory smile of a fox.
"I'm as horney as hell. Wanna fuck?" She leaned into me until our noses touched while her hand moved to my knee and slowly slid along the inside of my leg.
I answered by placing my hand on her knee and mirrored her journey of exploration. "Your place or mine?" I whispered. It was as cliché as shit, but I couldn't help myself. What could I say? She had just made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
Thus began our unlikely love affair.
We became romantically involved as much out of laziness as out of lust. Neither of us cared to invest the necessary time to search for the perfect partner, so we settled for close enough for right now. After we moved in together, I would joke that I was “robbing the cradle” when I took her to bed. She would always laugh and respond, "I guess that would make me a grave robber."
A few things attracted me to Darlene. The first was her personality. She was so easy going that I once tried to give her the nickname “Lake Placid.” Still waters run deep, and it didn't end well.
"Okay, Dennis, that was a twofer." The book she was reading sailed across the room, missing my head by less than an inch.
"Watch it, you nearly hit me! What the hell is a twofer?"
"A twofer is the first and last time something happens. I hate nicknames. Why the fuck would I want to be named after a stagnant pond?" Her smile was a weird combo of mischief and annoyance. I took pet names off my to-do list.
The other thing was her attitude toward sex. Everyone needs a hobby and sex was her diversion from work. She collected orgasms like some folks collected postage stamps.
After a few months together, the real estate development company in which Darlene had invested fifteen years of her life went belly-up, and then her last two paychecks bounced. The rubber checks set up a cascading overdraft chain reaction.
Darlene's rent check went south, along with about twenty-five or thirty personal checks and ATM transactions; each bad check racked up a thirty-five dollar bank charge and twenty-five to thirty dollars in returned check merchant fees; her account soon was bleeding red ink by several thousand dollars.
The certified letter ordering our eviction was the last straw. Our financial camel lay mortally wounded, it's back broken beyond repair. We needed a new place to live, and we needed it fast.
We crisscrossed Denver and the surrounding suburbs chasing every "For Rent" sign we could find. We were always an hour or a day late or the price way beyond reach.
"Well, if you hear anything, please give me a call. Thank you," Darlene frowned as she hung up the phone. She looked at me, turned slightly and studied the calendar hanging on the refrigerator door, and looked back into my eyes.
"That was our last best lead, we're screwed." She slumped in her chair.
We sat across from each other at the kitchen table as, like an unwanted house guest, a shroud of gloom settled over the room. Out of options, we ran out of time. Eviction day was less than seventy-two hours away.
Darlene's posture suddenly changed as she sat upright in her chair; the corner of her mouth turned upwards, and a smile lit up her eyes. "Damn, can't believe I forgot 'em!" She slapped the palm of her hand on the table and let out a laugh. "Dennis, how would you like to live on a commune?"
"Huh?" What kinda random question was this and where was it going? Darlene's exotic view of life trended toward the spiritual rather than the religious. I braced myself for her answer. "What kind of Hippy Village are we talking about?"
"Hippy? I'm not talking about Woodstock, my love. My friends from college are living in an off-the-grid cabin in the Rockies. They owe me some money... maybe we can stay with them."
"What's their address?" If you learn where someone lives, you can start to make good guesses as to their culture.
"Honey, they don't have an address, and they're not on a road." Darlene moved to the living room sofa and I followed.
"How far are they from the road?"
This was getting interesting. The closer to the road, the more connected they were to conventional reality. I had visited many communes in my younger days, and everyone had a personality ranging from boring to batshit crazy. We sat together on the couch.
"Fifteen miles, give or take." She leaned into me as she sat next to me. "We've been friends for over fifteen years. We were friends back in college."
"What kind of friends?" If they had been living off the grid for fifteen years, this group had something going for it
"You know, friends who help friends. Anyway, they are heavy duty into the survivalist movement. They might let us stay with them."
Any group holding its own for fifteen years might be an answer to our current housing crisis, depending on the depth of the batshit. Too deep would be too weird.
"Okay, you've got my attention," I gave her a kiss, "Tell me everything you know. Who are these guys?"
We talked until there was no more to say.
"Stay or go. Your choice. Do you want to give them a try, at least for a few weeks?" Darlene asked.
Living as amateur survivalists, her friends occupied an off-the-grid cabin located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains about two hundred and fifty miles west of Denver.
The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. Living off the grid far from civilization was an attractive alternative to living in a cardboard box behind a Safeway Supermarket. Besides, I liked the high country and I had made several hiking trips into the mountains while stationed at Lowry Air Force Base prior to shipping out for an all-expense-paid tour of Vietnam.
"Hum, I'm in. Let's see if your friends will let us stay with them." I watched and listened as she dictated a text message requesting sanctuary for us, and shared her joy when she received an affirmative response a few minutes later.
"Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off the grid we go," I sang, and Darlene joined in with a verse of her own.
"Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off with clothes we go," as she turned the dwarf song into a stripper-gram for two.
More efficient than artful, she had me barefoot from my toes to my chin within a minute. Naked and laughing we sealed the deal by morning with a wild session of lovemaking. We were going to make a new life for ourselves. We were going off the grid.
The next two days passed in a blur as we raced to pack what we needed for our new lives. Our Rav4 got a new set of off-road tires along with a complete tune up and oil change. We sold everything we couldn't take with us. What we couldn't sell, we gave away. We were done with Denver.
We departed a few hours after sunrise and followed US-70 out of Denver. Within an hour we were up into the mountains, and four hours after that, we hit the town of Rifle and broke for lunch. I asked Darlene to stop at the local smoke shop. I had learned that our new home wasn't only remote; it was in the middle of fucking nowhere. The idea of running out of cigarettes a million miles from resupply was frightening.
I assumed our new off-the-grid home had some power, so I purchased an electric rolling machine. I then covered my bet; I bought two hand-powered rolling machines just to be safe. I then cleaned the shop out of their inventory of Zen rolling papers (three cases), along with sixty pounds of tobacco, two hundred cheap disposable lighters, and five tobacco pipes.
Darlene stood next to me as the cashier rang up the largest single purchase in the shop's history.
"Are you out of your mind? Who spends that kind of money on cigarettes? Seriously, we're broke and almost homeless," She shook her head.
"Sweetheart, my VA check is a direct deposit and it just hit my account last night. Where we're going, money ain't going to be of much use, so why not?" I added another handful of Bic lighters to the pile of merchandise. The total bill of sixteen hundred and forty-seven dollars and twenty-eight cents wiped out half my available cash.
The Zen cigarette tubes and sixty pounds of tobacco were too bulky to fit in the Rav's cargo bay, so I ended up securing my newly acquired stash to the vehicle's roof. I wrapped everything up in a tarp and triple tied it down with rope and bungee cords. The car looked like a band of gypsies owned it by the time I finished.
We turned north on Route 13, passed the town of Meeker two hours later, and turned onto a winding dirt road leading up into the mountains. About forty-five minutes later Darlene announced, “It won't be long now” for the twentieth time.
Darlene was a bright young lady. She had programmed a series of waypoints her friends had emailed her into her vehicle's GPS system. We followed the dirt road through a thick pine forest until the road devolved into not much more than a poorly marked trail.
The trail shrunk down to a path as we continued onward, and our path soon became nothing more than a series of GPS waypoints connected by miles of barren rock as we climbed above the treeline.
I asked Darlene after an hour of driving ever deeper into the mountain wilderness, "How long is not long?"
"We should be there within the hour," Darlene answered.
"Christ Almighty! Your friends aren't only off the grid, they're off the fucking map. Do you have any idea of where we really are?" I complained.
Darlene just shrugged her shoulders, smiled, and kept driving.
Our Rav4 reached a ridge crest which afforded us with a splendid view of a long, thin U-shaped valley nestled between two towering mountain ranges an hour later. We could see a building almost lost in the distance at the far end of the vale.
The structure was considerably larger than it had seemed from the ridge as we approached the dwelling. The rustic cabin looked like it was growing out of the side of the mountain upon closer examination. It was as much a log mansion as it was a log cabin. Solar panels covered the south facing steel roof, and a farmer's porch wrapped around three sides of the cabin. Buck Rogers meets Davy Crockett.
The sun had disappeared behind the snow-capped mountains. Night and the thermometer were both falling fast by the time we rolled to a stop in front of the cabin. A welcoming committee of at least two dozen women had gathered on the porch erupted in shouts of joy and hand waves when Darlene emerged from the vehicle.
The boisterous welcome turned to a frosty silence when I stepped out of the car. It were as if someone had pulled the plug on the PA system.
Darlene stepped around the front bumper and gave me a hug as she whispered "Did I mention that this is an all woman survival commune?" in my ear.
"You forgot to share that little detail with me. What the fuck are we going to do now?" I whispered back.
Darlene was like that. She tended to skimp on the details and fill the void with trivia or useless information. Darleen held my hand as we broke from our embrace, and spoke to the assembled women on the porch. "I would like you to meet my lover, Dennis Richards, everyone. He's old, but he's a very nice guy once you have a chance to know him."
An older woman, who appeared to be the group's leader, stepped forward and said, "I'm Sheila Carson, Mr. Richards. Please come inside. I think we need to have a talk."
I had the same, uneasy "Oh crap! Now, what?" feeling that I used to have when I got summoned to the principal's office as a kid.
Sheila turned on her heels, walked inside, and the rest of us followed her into the cabin's great room. If the cabin had looked large from the outside, it looked like it went on forever standing in the middle of the hall. It was enormous. A massive freestanding stone fireplace dominated the center of the room, and a blazing fire radiated heat and light in all directions.
A cathedral ceiling towered over the open space, and rustic balconies ringed the wall on all sides at the second story level. Thousands of LED icicle lights hung from the balcony railings and stairways. A soft, comforting glow bathed the room.
Sheila directed us to follow her to her office upstairs. She stood about five feet six and was a good-looking woman about my age. Streaks of red highlighted her closely cropped brunette hair, and she appeared to be in excellent physical condition.
Her skin had the bronze tan of someone who was no stranger to hard outdoor work. Her face was more attractive than beautiful. She was wearing faded work jeans and a low-cut wool sweater, which allowed an excellent view of well-tanned medium-sized breasts and ample cleavage.
Sheila's office featured a large oaken desk and a stone fireplace. A picture window filled one wall with a breathtaking view of the frosted mountains painted silver in the light of a nearly full moon. A floor-to-ceiling bookcase crammed with books covered the opposite wall. There were several oriental rugs scattered about on the wood floor
"Make yourselves comfortable, I'll be right back." Sheila made a quick exit through a side door.
Her abrupt departure startled me. Something was brewing, and I wasn't sure I cared for the flavor. Darlene and I took a seat on a small sofa in front of a coffee table and exchanged worried glances while we waited.
I leaned close to her ear and whispered, "What the hell is going on? This ain't the warm and fuzzy welcome we expected."
"I know. Seriously, I don't understand. I told Sheila's assistant that you were coming with me, and she said, 'Great, the more, the merrier.’”
We could hear the muffled voices, but not the words, of two women engaged in a heated discussion in the next room. The conversation ended abruptly, and a moment later Sheila entered the office with another woman in tow.
"Your presence here presents us with something of a problem, Mr. Richards. Darlene sent us a text message to our satellite phone. She told us she was bringing her lover 'Denise' with her. It was on that basis that we gave our permission for you to join our family of sisters." Sheila crossed her arms and studied us closely.
Darlene let out a little gasp just before she burst out laughing. "Fucking auto-correct will get you every time. I dictated that message on my iPhone, and I never caught the error when it changed Dennis to Denise," Darlene said.
Oh, damn! Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. We were at the intersection of Colossal and Fuck Up. It took Sheila only a moment to absorb the implications of Darlene's unintended error. There was no conspiracy at work here, just faulty technology.
"Error or not, Mr. Richards' presence in our family of sisters might produce, er, unwanted sexual tension; that kind of stress can be bad for families," Sheila explained as she took a seat across from us.
"Seriously? If you're all lesbians, how can an old fart like me produce any sexual tension?" I protested.
"There are capital-L Lesbians, and there are lowercase-L lesbians, Mr. Richards, and then there are those who might want to find pleasure from a man out of mischief or mere curiosity. The fact that you're old makes you seem harmless, but I know better. You're not as safe as you appear. You have already seduced one of our first lesbian sisters and convinced her to take you on as a lover," Sheila answered as she glanced over at Darlene.
I also gave Darlene an inquiring look of my own. I had suspected, but never known for sure that my lady love walked both sides of the street.
Sheila leaned forward and looked directly into Darlene's eyes. "Since we're already on the subject, why on earth did you pick such an old guy for a lover in the first place? My God girl, he's old enough to be your father or even your grandfather."
Darlene laughed. "Everyone wants to know about our May-December relationship. I picked Dennis because he's low maintenance, easy to be with, and treats me with respect. He's a fantastic lover and knows how to make a woman happy. His tongue is very talented."
Sheila looked over at me and raised a questioning eyebrow. I just smiled back and shrugged as the “talented tongue” comment seemed to hang in the air forever.
She let the silence stretch out a bit, and then leaned across the coffee table, took Darlene's right hand in her own, and asked, "Tell me, dear sister, is his penis as talented as his tongue?"
I shifted in my seat and struggled to keep a neutral expression as the two women discussed my sexual performance. I couldn't imagine a more awkward conversation.
Darlene looked surprised at Sheila's question, and then looked thoughtful. She told Sheila after several moments of reflection, "His penis is untrained, and it doesn't work nearly as well as his tongue. Sometimes my lover can't get it up or keep it up. Other times his pecker has a mind of its own. He often suffers from premature ejaculation when he finally does get an erection."
Sheila glanced over at me and raised another questioning eyebrow. I just blushed, shrugged, and did my best to sink out of sight in the sofa. I tried to avoid any response that might extend discussion further. Darlene had a tendency to overshare information.
Turning toward her companion, Sheila asked, "Will you please show Darlene to her room and round up a few of the sisters to help unpack their vehicle, Lucia? I need to spend a few minutes to bring Dennis up to speed on the ground rules for our colony. Please let the kitchen crew and the others know that we may be a little late for dinner."
With a quick kiss on my lips, Darlene rose and give Sheila a slightly longer kiss as she followed Lucia out of the room. As the door closed, Sheila stood and beckoned me to follow her. "Let's adjourn to the next room where we can be more comfortable. We've got a lot to talk about."
There was no doubt about it, I was a stranger in a very strange land.
The next room turned out to be the bedroom Sheila shared with her partner, Lucia. The walls were hand hewn pine planks decked out with bookcases and several very well done nude watercolor portraits of women.
A queen-size four-poster bed covered with a beautiful handmade quilt took up one wall, and a rustic looking nightstand with a large table lamp adorned with a stained glass shade provided most of the light in the room. The balance of the lighting came from a stone fireplace with several burning logs.
A huge bearskin spread out on the floor before the fire along with several large throw pillows offered comfortable seating. The room had an elegant, warm and cozy feel to it overall.
Sheila retrieved an amber-colored bottle and two glasses from the bookshelf and sat down on the rug. She patted a spot next to her as she invited me to join her at the fireplace.
"Dennis, would you care to join me in a glass of home-brewed brandy?"
"Only if you make mine a double." I was tempted to ask for a triple, but I let it pass. A double would do for now.
Taking a seat on the rug next to Sheila, I made myself as comfortable as possible. I was no longer as flexible as I had been when I was younger. Moreover, sitting on the floor was hardly my preferred mode of relaxation.
I took a sip of the offered brandy. Oh my God, it was as smooth as silk, and I could feel it filling me with a warm glow.
"Tell me Dennis, how comfortable are you with public displays of nudity?" Sheila asked as she took a sip of her brandy.
I nearly snorted the drink out of my nose as I coughed and choked in surprise. What the fuck kind of question was that?
"I don't have a problem with public nudity," I regained my composure. "I've visited plenty of nude beaches in my life."
"Did you get nude yourself or just visit as a voyeur?" Sheila inquired.
"I got as naked as everyone else. Why do you ask?" I responded.
"Because our dress code most assuredly is clothing optional when we're in the cabin. Most of us go skyclad when we aren't working or cooking, or if safety requires we remain covered up. I'm glad that you're comfortable with this," Sheila said, as she pulled her sweater over her head and exposed her braless chest.
I used to think I was pretty jaded and nothing would surprise me. Wrong. What do you say to a naked lady? I felt like I was playing a bit part on candid camera.
Neatly folding her garment, she rose to her knees, unbuckled her jeans, and slid them down to her ankles. My eyes widened in surprise. Sheila wore no underwear, and her naked body showed no trace of tan lines. My head was spinning.
Seriously, the same dizzy feeling I had when standing at the edge of a cliff swept over me in a wave of cultural vertigo as I struggled to keep my mental balance. The normal social landmarks outlining the boundaries of acceptable behavior were either missing or obscured in this strange new world.
Sheila folded her jeans, placed them on top of her sweater, leaned back on the pillow behind her, and closed her eyes, "Ahh, that feels much more comfortable. I'm almost getting to the point where I hate wearing clothing," she said with a deep sigh.
I took the opportunity to examine Sheila's exposed body as she lay naked next to me. I was trying to engrave this moment in my memory for later replay. Maybe it will make more sense the second time around. Her breasts were still pretty firm, and they showed few of the signs of aging or sagging, apart from a few stretch marks, which came along with advancing years.
Sheila's nipples were about the size of the tip of my little finger, and her dark brown areolas were roughly the size of fifty-cent pieces. Her stomach was flat with just a few wrinkles above a thin patch of reddish-brown pubic hair. She was in better physical shape than most women half her age. Either that, or she was a very high mileage thirty-year-old.
Her face had the usual lines and weather worn creases of someone who spent most of their time outdoors, and there was only a slight hint of a double chin. She opened her eyes and caught me studying her body.
"Do I meet with your approval?"
I was stone-cold busted. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stare. I don't often find myself alone with a naked woman," I stammered. "This whole thing is way too weird. Talk about being beyond my comfort zone; you're naked. Now you tell me there's an entire group of naked women just beyond this door," I looked around and waved my arms, "and then there's all this, this cabin in the middle of fucking nowhere. It's just everything. I don't mind being outside my zone, but I still need the time to process it."
I continued. "Take this cabin, for example. It didn't grow here. It seems to be at least ten or fifteen years old, and it must have cost a fortune. What did you guys do? Win the lottery or something?" I said, waving my arms around the room.
"You're either a good guesser or a very lucky boy. That's exactly how this place came to be. Do you remember when everyone was freaking out over a seventy-five million dollar jackpot that remained unclaimed for almost a year nearly twenty years ago? That was the sisters and me," Sheila said.
"It took us that long to set up a corporation to hold the ticket. We decided that we would fly under the radar. We didn't want the media attention, I'm sure you can understand." She patted my leg.
"How the hell did you build this structure? You needed some heavy equipment to put this place together, and there are no roads in or out of the valley?"
"We cut and milled all the wood we needed on site. A French Canadian Heavy Lift Helicopter Service brought in all the necessary equipment to complete this building and about a dozen utility structures. I'll give you and Darlene a tour of our colony tomorrow," Sheila offered.
I numbly nodded while reaching into my shirt pocket. I needed a smoke to calm my nerves.
With the pack of smokes in my hand, I asked, "Is it okay with you if I have a cigarette?"
"Shit! You've got cigarettes? I haven't had one in years!" She took the pack from my hand and tapped two cigarettes out before setting the pack down next to her leg.
Sheila gave me one before rolling onto her stomach. Slightly spreading her legs for balance, she stretched forward and reached into the fireplace to find an unburned twig to use as a match to light her cigarette.
Her buttocks were on vivid display as she sprawled before me. Each rounded cheek was firm, compact, and well-tanned. Her small puckered brown anus was clearly visible in the valley between them just above the lips of her vagina. I could feel a stiffening in my shorts as my body responded to the vision before me.
I was going to have to get my aging and raging hormones in check if nudity was going to be the new normal. I had a hunch that sprouting a boner every time one of the women of the colony bent over wasn't going to cut the mustard.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my Bic lighter, and lit my cigarette while Sheila worked to get her twig lit. I then tapped her on the leg and offered her my torch.
Sheila relaxed against her pillow for the next few minutes and puffed away at her first cigarette in years. "Damn! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed a good smoke." She laughed and blew a perfect smoke ring and then another.
"Keep the pack; it's my treat. There are plenty more in the car." I watched the smoke rings until they dissolved in the air. I was impressed. Not many smokers could blow a quality smoke ring.
"Really? How much is plenty more?" Sheila asked.
"I brought enough tobacco to roll at least twenty-four thousand cigarettes. That should last a few years." I told Sheila about my bulk tobacco purchase in Rifle, Colorado.
My eyes kept drifting back to Sheila's breasts and down to her pubic hair and vagina as we talked. I finally said, "I know that staring is rude, Sheila, but it's hard to keep my eyes away from your body. You're a very attractive woman." I felt my erection twitch.
"I noticed, but don't worry about it. I didn't give you much warning before changing into my birthday suit, and this was a test. I wanted to see how you would handle female nudity, and you did just fine. I'm frankly flattered when someone admires my body, even if it's a man. Just try not to drool," Sheila said with a grin as she glanced at my crotch.
"I understand the usual norms around social nudity, and it doesn't include unwanted sexual aggression. Just because a woman is naked doesn't give anyone permission to grope or fondle her. I get it." I rested my hand in my lap. Just to be on the safe side.
"That is almost a feminist viewpoint for a man. Maybe you'll be able to fit in here after all." Sheila stood, stretched and stood on her tiptoes as circulation returned to her legs.
"I'm famished and it's getting late, Dennis. Let's continue this conversation later, but we need to get downstairs before there's nothing left of dinner in the meantime." I gratefully took her hand as she helped me to my feet. I have the knees of a man twice my age.
The dining area was located just off a large commercial kitchen at the far end of the great room. A supersized picnic table lined with benches provided more than enough seating capacity for the thirty-seven females who made the Colony their home. The table itself was a stunning thing of beauty. The tabletop surface consisted of wide pine planking sanded to a silky smooth sheen and then coated with dozens of layers of polyurethane.
I took a good hard look around as we descended the stairs. Designed to appear humble, at least from a distance, the cabin functioned as a state of the art survival factory with enough solar capacity on the roof to meet the needs of several large households. All the lighting in the cabin utilized LED bulbs. The thousands of icicle lights deployed around the great room drew less power than two or three seventy-five watt bulbs.
The air temperature in the hall hovered at a pleasant seventy-five degrees. Most of the sisters of the colony were gathered in animated conversation around the expansive dining table, which Sheila said doubled as a conference table for group meetings. They were all topless, and most were bottomless. Never before had I seen so much exposed female flesh in one place at one time.
In a daze, I tried to process a torrent of new information. I was kinda prepared for the sight before me thanks to Sheila's sudden introduction to public nudity. Nothing Darlene told me about this place prepared me for the strange reality of actually being here, however.
One of the women spotted us and shouted out a greeting to Sheila before we even descended a third of the way down the staircase. A naked Darlene waited for me with a hug by the time we reached the bottom of the stairs.
Darlene whispered in my ear as we embraced, "Give me a long, wet, sloppy kiss and play with my ass. I'll explain later."
I learned long ago that obedience is the best course of action when Darlene gave a command like that. We locked lips and traded spit in one of the most passionate kisses we’d shared in a long time. I ran my hands over her bare bottom and lovingly caressed her buttocks as I held her.
Darlene let a low moan out. I cupped each cheek in the palms of my hands and jiggled them so much that she burst out laughing which ended in a loud 'yelp' when I gave a loud slap to one of her cheeks.
"What was that for?" she whispered.
"Payback for your excessively detailed account of my prick's sexual deficiencies," I whispered back.
Darlene giggled, gave me a quick kiss, took my hand, and then pulled me in the direction of the dining table as she said, "You've got to get some dinner before it's all gone. It's venison stew, and it is absolutely delicious."
Flavored with an assortment of tasty vegetables that I couldn't identify, the stew was thick, hearty, and spicy. Darlene was right. The taste was out-of-this-world delicious.
After allowing me a few minutes to eat, Darlene started to introduce me to each of the sisters.
Darlene possesses a natural ability to remember names. I, on the other hand, had already forgotten the name of the first woman by the time I had been introduced to the third sister.
I shook hands, made and kept eye contact (to avoid staring at their naked breasts), and repeated their names in a futile effort to drill each name into my memory as I met each member of the colony. Most of the women warmly responded to my introduction, but several were very reserved, if not hostile. A few of the sisters clearly had “man issues,” most likely the result of some abusive male in their history.
I couldn't say that I blamed them. I could understand how my presence might be disquieting, to say the least, if I joined a remote all woman community to put the world of men behind me.
An attractive sandy blonde named Alice was the next to last woman I was introduced to. She was well-endowed, and a dark golden tan like the rest. I guessed her age to be about fifty, and stretch marks on her somewhat saggy breasts and her stomach suggested that she had given birth at least once in her life.
Alice seemed genuinely happy to meet me. She gave me a radiant smile and held onto my hand far longer than is customary. Alice turned to the young girl sitting next to her, and said, "This is my daughter, StarShine, and she's been living in the colony since she was three years old. You're the first man she's ever met. She just celebrated her eighteenth birthday two months ago."
I bowed and shook Star's hand as I wished her a belated birthday while doing my best to make and keep eye contact. Alice's daughter was drop dead gorgeous with small, perky breasts, and a slim elfin and athletic figure adorned in a beautiful amber tan. She had bright blue eyes and wore her waist-length blonde hair in a braid, which made her look like a young Scandinavian fashion model. She was, in a word, stunning.
I had a hunch that I wouldn't earn points from her mother if I started drooling over her nude daughter, so I kept my cool even as I felt the stirring of an erection. Thank the Lord I was still fully dressed.
Her mother must have been a mind reader. Alice took my hand and pulled me close and asked, "Why are you still dressed, Dennis? Why don't you strip down and make yourself comfortable?"
I noticed her question elicited a few murmurs of agreement, including a nod from Sheila, and an, "'I'll second that motion" from Darlene.
"Moved and seconded. All those in favor, please signify by saying aye," Sheila announced in the voice of a true parliamentarian. A loud chorus of ayes filled the hall.
Sheila then called for the “no” vote; crickets. I half-heartedly raised my hand and quietly said, "No." My vote was as much a joke as an opinion.
Sheila smiled at me and said, "Hearing minimal opposition, I declare that the ayes have it. Motion carries."
After a long pause, Sheila said, "Okay, Dennis, you heard the vote. Now it's your turn."
Stripping was going to be awkward. Getting naked in front of a group of nude women was the last thing I wanted to do, especially with a growing boner. Even so, I decided that I had no choice but to comply. Clearly, I would eventually have to join the clothing optional norm of the colony.
Taking a deep breath, I braced myself and unbuttoned my shirt, took it off, and laid it on the table. I then took my shoes and socks off and placed them next to my shirt. I undressed as slowly as possible, trying to drag things out for as long as I could in hopes my erection would go down.
I undid my belt, unzipped my jeans, let them slide down to my ankles, and stepped out of my pants. I tossed them into the air with a flip of my foot, caught them with my free hand, folded my jeans, and laid them on the table.
I remembered how my mother always told me to wear clean underwear in the unlikely event that I had to go to the hospital. I prayed that there were no visible racing stripes marking me as I stood in my tighty-whities. A small but noticeable bulge was making a tent in my shorts. I could feel myself blushing as I noticed Alice and her daughter staring at me with interest. All the colony's sisters seemed to be paying close attention to developments in fact.
The attention on my private parts by so many women produced a chilling effect on me. A wave of apprehension spread across my body. Being naked was the ultimate in performance anxiety. I knew that my junk was about as average as you could get; my circumcised penis measured five and a quarter inches when fully erect and just under three inches when flaccid. If the girls expected a well-endowed porn star, I would not measure up.
I removed my T-shirt next, folded it, and placed it on top of my jeans. I stood dressed only in my underwear for a few moments as I worked up the nerve for the final act. I debated with myself; I had few choices: I could either chicken out, or I could drop my drawers.
Well, I would give them a show since they apparently wanted one. I slowly lowered my shorts and exposed a patch of light brown and gray pubic hair. I paused and then turned away from the table and slowly slid my shorts to a half-mast position, leaving half my buttocks exposed. I slowly lowered them to my knees after another dramatic pause, and then let them drop to my ankles.
I turned around, faced the women, and proceeded to do an exaggerated bow from the waist with my arms spread wide. I heard Alice's daughter giggle. There was a smattering of happy amused laughter from the sisters.
Thank God! My fear and stalling tactics worked; my erection subsided to the point where my prick was only semi-stiff, halfway between flaccid and hard.
"Well done and nicely played," Sheila said with a smile, as she gave me a thumbs up.
"I think this would be a good time for you to introduce yourself to our group, Dennis. Why don't you take a few minutes and tell us about yourself," Alice said.
"Thank you, Alice. That's an excellent suggestion. You have the floor, Dennis," Sheila said.
The sisters' leader was testing me. Earlier she had wanted to know if nudity by the colony's women would bother me. Now she was testing the sisters to find out if my nudity would bother them; quite clever actually.
I'd done my share of public speaking over the years, but it was different this time. There's a certain something about standing naked in front of an audience which compels honesty. I decided to give a very brief and unvarnished account of my life thus far. I stood in thought with my head bowed for several minutes.
Two things worked for me during this interlude; the first was an old showman's trick: keep the audience in suspense by never starting on time.
The second was a political trick: use any extended silence to buy time and gather your thoughts and wits. Show your audience that you're thoughtful and caring, or as my dad used to say, “Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that you've got it made.” I was going to use the body language of my audience to gauge my reception while I spoke.
"Hello. My name is Dennis Nathan Richards, and I was born in New Haven, Connecticut. I am a retired Vietnam Veteran with a one hundred percent unemployable disability from Agent Orange exposure while in Saigon. I served in the United States Air Force, mostly in Japan and Vietnam.
I searched the faces of the sisters while I spoke as I tried to access my ability to engage each woman at a deeper and more positive level. I was, in essence, trying to seduce a room full of naked lesbians. Talk about your lost cause.
"You can stop me at any time if you want to ask a question. I would rather this be a dialogue and not a monolog," I said in an effort to break the ice.
The invitation to ask questions resulted in one brown-haired woman tentatively raising her hand. I asked her to remind me of her name, and she said, "My name is Amelia. One question ... you said you got a monthly disability check from the VA. What kind of disability? You seem to be in good shape."
"Good question, Amelia. My disability is mostly invisible. Type II Diabetes because of exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. And, more specifically, severe neuropathy in my right hand and in my feet, which is a side-effect of Diabetes."
"What are the effects of your neuropathy?" Amelia asked as a follow-up question.
"Neuropathy is nerve damage as a result of too much sugar in my blood. In my case, the result is numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. The other effect is rather embarrassing," I said as I paused. I was not sure how much detail I wanted to get into.
"Do not stop there. Please explain," Amelia asked as she pressed me for more information.
"Well, sometimes I, um, it's difficult to get it up and keep it up," I reluctantly volunteered to the group.
Amelia and several of her sisters nodded. I noticed that Sheila and Alice were paying very close attention to the conversation.
"The result sometimes is a limp dick, for lack of better words, when the nerves connecting my prick to my brain shut down due to high sugar levels," I answered.
Several sisters responded with stifled laughter or nervous giggles and additional follow-up questions. Sex is always an interesting conversation. I had their attention at least.
"Can you still orgasm?" Alice asked with a look of concern on her face.
"Yes. Even when flaccid, a guy can still ejaculate. It just takes a little more effort, and it's not nearly as much fun," I explained.
"I don't understand. Darlene says you're a fantastic lover. How can that be if you don't get hard?" Alice asked. I heard several sisters say, "I was wondering the same thing."
"My goal or mission as a lover is to provide the necessary emotional and physical stimulation required for my partner to achieve an orgasm. I do that orally," I said.
Standing stark naked in front of a table full of attractive and nude women while talking about orgasms and oral sex was having unintended consequences. I could feel my semi-flaccid penis begin to stiffen. There was no way to hide my growing arousal.
"I thought you said that you couldn't get hard, but you apparently can," one of the women observed.
"I get an erection sometimes, and sometimes I don't. It tends to be a hit or miss affair. My prick has a mind of its own, and I can never depend on it to respond as I want it to. It's all rather embarrassing and frustrating," I explained as I shared far more information than I wanted.
Looking at several sisters' body language, I saw signs of what looked like sexual responses from about half of them. Nipples had slightly hardened, many had leaned forward a bit more than usual, their faces relaxed and smiling or friendly neutral. Body postures showed a focused interest. At some primal level, pheromones floated like mist in the air, and my body was responding.
I looked down at my gradually stiffening penis; I covered myself with my hand. "Sorry about that, but all this talk about sex and stuff seems to be having an effect on my hardware, as I'm sure everyone can see. It never seems to respond like I want it to, as I said, and a public boner is rather awkward," I explained. I could feel the heat of a blush burn across my body.
Darlene came to my rescue. She walked up to me and gave me a big hug and lingering kiss, and then turned to face her companions while holding my free hand. "I think Dennis is thinking about the love making session we'll have when we go to bed," she said with a foxy grin.
Darlene started to rub my ass while she stood next to me, much to her sisters' amusement. The sensation of her warm hand massaging my bare behind did nothing to diminish my arousal. I continued to stiffen to about three-quarters erect, a little less than four inches, under her playful touch.
Looking out over my audience of colony members, I noticed that they all paid close attention to the interplay between Darlene and me. I was at a loss for words and didn't know how, or if, I should continue or try to beat a hasty retreat.
"Don't be embarrassed by having a hard-on, Dennis. It's a natural event. We all get sexually aroused from time to time; it is just that your arousal is slightly more noticeable than ours is," Sheila said. Her statement got a chorus of chuckles and laughter from the sisters and did much to ease the tension that had been building in the room.
"I'll put it to a vote if it makes you feel better, however, Dennis. By a show of hands, how many of us would like Dennis to proceed with his self-introduction?" Sheila said as she raised her hand.
A unanimous show of hands joined with Sheila. The sisters wanted the show to go on. The vote left me both relieved and annoyed at the same time. I was glad I hadn't offended them, but I was still several zip codes away from my comfort zone. Exhibitionism had never been my thing.
I turned to Darlene who was still playing with my bare bottom and said, "Maybe now is not the best time for foreplay. Shall we continue this later?"
Darlene was as much of a ham as I was. With an exaggerated stage pout, she said to me, "You are such a tight ass. You need to learn to relax and have fun." She jiggled my ass cheeks with both hands. The jiggle made my erection dance in the air.
My mind went blank as I started to speak; I’d forgotten what I was going to say. "I'm having a senior moment. I just lost my train of thought. Are there any more questions while I try to get back on track?" I asked the women around me while I stalled.
Alice and several of her sisters raised their hands. I figured it would be an easy question, so I called on Alice.
"Since you're the only man in a community of lesbians, how do you feel about women who love women?" Alice asked as several of her companions nodded their approval of her question.
I began my answer by explaining how Darlene and I were on the brink of being homeless when she suggested that we could go and stay with a group of her college friends who lived off-the-grid. Not that it would have made a difference, but she never bothered to mention that our new home would be an all women survival colony. I was completely unprepared for what I found when we arrived on your doorstep.
"This is all unexplored territory for me, and I am winging it the best way that I can. I believe it is a right for everyone to love anyone of his or her choice. I doubt that we have much control when it comes to selecting our sexual identity. We are who we are. I don't remember choosing to be heterosexual. It is just who I am.
"The real question is how do you feel about having a man living among you in this beautiful colony? Because, as we all know, men can be real dicks, no pun intended, " I said to an outburst of laughter.
"I noticed that several folks here did not seem too happy with my presence when I was speaking earlier. I suspect that personal experience with abusive males is likely the source of this negative attitude.
"Let me tell you this, I know a thing or two about abusive men. A male babysitter raped me when I was twelve years old," I explained.
The sisters responded with a collective gasp. Alice looked shocked; her daughter stared at me with wide eyes and an open mouth as her hand shot into the air with an inquiry.
"How did it happen? How did it make you feel? Was it traumatic?" StarShine asked me in a series of rapid-fire questions.
"Without going into gory details, it happened after I got severely sunburned. My babysitter walked in as I got out of the shower. I was naked, and he offered to give me a massage after he took his shower. A naked pedophile giving a nude boy a massage - what could possibly go wrong? The rest is, as they say, history.
"As to how it made me feel; I felt used and humiliated. I was there exclusively for his sexual pleasure as far as that bastard was concerned. He didn't see me as a person. I was only a receptacle for his goo. I hated it, and I vowed I would never treat a fellow human the way he treated me.
"I didn't hate men when it was over, but I didn't trust them. I did hate him, and I dislike the way too many men treat other people, especially females," I explained.
"How do you feel about gay men?" one of the sisters asked without raising her hand.
"As I said before, I believe that everyone should have a right to love anyone of his or her choice. I think most of us occupy some point on the sexual spectrum. Very few of us are born one hundred percent straight or one hundred percent gay. Almost all of us are born on one side or the other of the rainbow of possibilities. Does that answer your question?" I asked. Nodding heads told me I had.
"What happens when you get an erection at a nude beach?" another sister asked.
I laughed, "I either sit down and wait for it to pass, or I go behind a bush and take care of business."
"What would you do if you end up staying with us?" Sheila asked.
Sheila was everything anyone could want in a leader. She was thoughtful and measured in her approach to unexpected problems. I was an unexpected problem. I knew her questions weren't accidental. This is her test to determine whether I stayed or went away. My problem was that I had no way of knowing what the right answers might be. My only option was to roll the dice and hope for the best.
"You and your sisters have built something here that is amazing, unique, and precious, Sheila. The protection and continued safety of this community is a top priority. I can understand why some might view me, as a man, to be a possible threat to this family. I am who I am, and there's nothing I can do to change that," I said.
We were now talking about the elephant in the room, and the hall had become silent as each woman considered my words. I raised my right hand and faced Sheila.
"I vow to do everything in my power to help this colony continue to succeed under your leadership," I said while making eye contact with the group's leader.
"The world outside this valley is changing into something very ugly and dangerous, and I think that having a man among you might be useful. I would like to be that man, and I will place the safety of your sisters ahead of my own if you’ll allow it."
I lowered myself to one knee before Sheila, crossed my arms over my chest, and bowed my head when I finished speaking. I held my position as I waited for Sheila to speak. It may have been a bit melodramatic, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I had once seen it done in a movie.
The silence seemed to stretch out forever, but I didn't move. I did a long count in my head to track the time. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, and Sheila broke the silence when I got to fifty-two Mississippi.
"That's a compelling offer, and I appreciate your apparent sincerity, Dennis. It's very moving. Truth be told. However, I don't know you well enough to trust you with the lives of our family. I can't give you trust that you haven't yet earned. I will allow you to remain among us as my guest until I make a final determination as to your status here. We will revisit this question in two weeks. You will not attempt to leave our company in the meantime..." Sheila paused before she continued, "...do you understand?" She was not making an optional suggestion, this was a stone cold command. I didn't want to find out what would happen if I disobeyed.
"Thank you, Sheila, I can't ask for more. You have my word of honor," I replied, as I resumed a standing position. At least my status had been clarified; I was a guest/prisoner of the group's leader.
The serious discussion didn't arouse me as much as the sexy questions. My erection got bored and decided that it was time for a nap. I took the opportunity to wrap up my “brief” introduction as quickly as possible.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know all of you, and I'm thankful for your generous hospitality. I will do my best as your guest to carry my own weight for as long as I'm under your roof," I concluded.
The applause of the sisterhood caught me by surprise. While not over the top wild, it was polite and lasted about twenty seconds.
As the applause died down, I took a seat on the table's bench next to Sheila and tried to relax. I felt like I had just run a marathon. Darlene gave me a warm hug and a glass of ice-cold water and sat with me. I don't know which I appreciated more; her company, the hug, or the beverage. I guzzled the water down in one long gulp. Public speaking is lonely and thirsty work.
The sisters stopped by in ones and twos to exchange small talk with Sheila before retiring for the evening. That was the cover story, at least. I noticed after the third such “visit” that most of the women seemed to spend more time sneaking glances at my naked crotch than they did in conversation with their leader.
Great; I was now either the object of sexual curiosity or at the very least, a diversion in the colony's daily routine. It had been years since most of the women in the cabin had seen a man, with or without clothes. I sympathized with animals in the zoo. Maybe I should charge admission.
Sheila stood and stretched after too long sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench without padding. "I'll show you both to your quarters if you two are willing to call it a night."
After several minutes, the last of the group drifted away to their rooms.
The colony's sleeping quarters were on the second level balcony that ringed the rectangular shaped Great Room. I did a quick count; there were twenty-four doorways in total, seven on each side of the long axes, and five each on the short sides of the rectangle.
The room reserved for Darlene and I was located on the western balcony above the cabin's Great Room and appeared to be identical in size to Sheila's quarters. The room was stunning in its simplicity. The walls had the same pine paneling that we had seen in Sheila's rooms, with wide planks of Gambel Oak for flooring and exposed wood beams supporting the white plaster ceiling.
A colorful handmade antiquated quilt adorned a queen-sized bed on the wall opposite a large picture window. I paused for a moment and looked out over the moonlight bathed sleeping valley. The shadows of mountains rose in the distance like sentinels into a sky ablaze with stars.
The belongings we had brought with us on our journey nearly filled a huge walk-in closet. I was pleased to see that my tobacco stash had also been unpacked. A small windowless half-bath with an "Out Of Order" sign affixed to the door was located at the far end of the closet. Sheila advised me that a communal shower was located two doors to the left when I asked where I could bathe.
I had to admire the cabin's design efficiency. The half baths used a minimum of plumbing and were handy for midnight relief, while the community showers were for general hygiene. Sheila wished us a good night and left us alone in our room. As I started to strip to take a shower, Darlene wrapped her arms around me when Sheila departed and gave me a hug and a kiss that was almost violent in its intensity.
"I'm so fucking horny, Dennis! I want you to make love to me right now," Darlene said, as she wrapped her arms around my bare backside and pulled me onto the bed.
"Your wish is my command," I replied, and slowly began to kiss Darlene's face.
I softly kissed eyelids and cheeks. I lightly traced the tip of my tongue across welcoming lips and followed with kisses under her chin before moving down and nibbling along the nape of Darlene's neck. I kissed along the edge of her collarbone to her shoulders' rounded top. I reversed direction and gently kissed the side of her neck, and then softly nibbled her earlobes.
Darlene's steady breathing changed into little pants punctuated by low moans as I continued to circle her face and neck with kisses. I softly caressed the rounded underside of each breast with my hands before touching the whole breast. I avoided direct contact with nipples. I let my fingers brush ever so slightly against each tit as my hands caressed the contours of her chest instead.
Darlene arched her back as she tried to push stiff nipples into my hands each time my fingers approached the tips. I refused contact and continued to tease. My hands moved back to Darlene's shoulders and along the inside of her arms.
My lips followed the same path traced by my hands and fingers. I kissed the top of each breast and used my tongue to trace a circle around the base of each nipple before flicking my tongue across the very tip.
I moved my hands to the inside of my lover's thighs and softly caressed sensitive skin as I kissed and licked the underside of each breast. I sucked one nipple at a time into my mouth and gently squeezed them between my teeth when my exploring fingers approached the outer lips of her vulva.
Darlene whimpere was whisper quiet as she pulled at the bed coverings while spreading her legs further apart. I moved my fingers to each side when my hands reached the base of the vulva and followed the valley between the pubis and the top of her thighs. I reversed direction when my fingers reached the base of Darlene's stomach and worked back down toward trembling knees.
My lover's pussy was glistening with moisture and glowed pink, as her skin took on a deep reddish blush. Her soft moans became steadily louder as Darlene's arousal grew in anticipation while I explored and stimulated each erogenous zone in turn.
I slowly licked, touched, stroked, and caressed Darlene's inner thighs as I steadily worked my way upward toward her pussy. I wanted to keep her on the edge of a climax for as long as possible. I could feel the tension building within her as her body trembled and tightened in response to ever-building waves of pleasure.
I slid my tongue along the valley between her swelling pubis and the top of her thighs when my mouth reached the base of her vulva. Darlene's hips and body began to writhe and twist to meet my mouth as I used the point of my tongue to gather her secretions into my mouth. I celebrated and savored every delicious drop.
I gently and carefully opened the large lips of her labia with my fingers and let the flat of my tongue slide along the valley separating the inner and outer lips. I used my tongue like a magnifying glass in a beam of sunlight to narrow the focus of her pleasure and drive each particle of joy toward the center of her erect clitoris. Women have twice as many nerve endings in their clits as men do in their pricks. I wanted every nerve to be on fire with desire.
I finally gently parted the lips of her labia minora to reveal a wet vaginal opening and swollen clitoris. The inside lips were bright red and slick with her lubricant. I ran the tip of my tongue around the opening and then moved upward and swirled the tip of my tongue around the base of Darlene's clitoris, as she began to force her hips upward to meet my mouth.
"Oh, fuck yes! Don't, uh, oh my God, don't stop!" she screamed as her legs and body started to shake and quiver.
I flicked my tongue across her clit as I slid my index finger into her vagina, and started to massage the ridges of her G-spot with a “come hither” motion. I increased the pressure of my tongue around and on her clitoris as I stimulated the inside of her vaginal canal. I slowly slipped the index finger of my free hand inward and wiggled it from side to side when I felt mounting waves of contractions ripple within her body.
Darlene's orgasm exploded in series of vaginal spasms, her legs went stiff, and then kicked and thrashed about as she cried out and screamed "Yes! That's it, oh yeah!" I relaxed the pressure a tiny bit and then redoubled my efforts as I stimulated all points at the same time as each wave passed.
I knew I was finished when I felt hands pushing my face away from between her legs. I scooted up and lay along the side of my lover's body, holding her close to me. We cuddled together and basked in the warm afterglow of euphoria.
I kissed Darlene's lips, and innocently asked, "Did I make you happy?" I knew it was a stupid question, but I loved hearing the answer. It was my report card.
"You were fucking fantastic, Dennis, and you know it! My God, I came so many times that I lost count," she said, and then hugged me as tightly as she could.
"That was only the first installment. Are you ready for part two?"
I kissed her skin in a line across the top of the pubic mound, and whispered, "Turn over onto your stomach."
She eagerly obeyed. I straddled her and began to caress her buttocks and the inside of my love's thighs. The delicious musky scent of sex rose from Darlene like steam. Using my fingers to spread her buttocks apart, I leaned forward and ran my tongue down the side of the valley between two pink cheeks. Darlene twitched, and her hips jumped as she screamed, "Oh my God, fuck yes!"
I licked from the top of her crack down to a point just before her vaginal opening. I then reversed direction and used my tongue to lick along the opposite side of the valley. I avoided contact each time I approached the anus and traced a teasing wet circle all around her puckered hole instead. I savored the sweet/tart taste of her fluids and the rich aroma of her arousal.
I continued to lick an up and down path along each side of her valley. Each pass was slightly faster than the previous one as I teased and pushed her toward the brink. Darlene suddenly arched her back after several minutes of mouth play, and screamed, "Oh my fucking God, yes! I'm going to cum!"
I stiffened my tongue and drove it deep inside as she screamed. Sliding it into her as far as I could, I could feel Darlene's entire body tense in a screaming, nearly ear-splitting climax. She reached the top of her first mountain and kept climbing.
The contractions of her orgasm squeezed my tongue like a pulsating vise in one wave of pleasure after another before she lay still.
"Christ, Darlene, do you think you can make any more fucking noise?" I scolded.
"I doubt it, but I can try," Darlene giggled, as she tried to catch her breath.
"I had been telling my sisters what a fantastic lover you are while you were meeting with Sheila, but I don't think they believed me, so I decided to let them hear for themselves. Besides, you need all the advertising you can get," Darlene explained.
"Why would I need any advertising?" I asked.
"I think they all heard how hard you could make a girl cum after tonight. You now have a reputation to uphold, Mr. Talented Tongue. A few of my sisters might want you to give them personal tutoring if I know them."
"And you would be okay with that?" I asked as I gave her a skeptical eye.
"Of course I would be, just as long as you make sure your students use me for the final exam," Darlene laughed with a wink.
"Okay, okay, I'll think about it," I said, as I lowered my mouth between her legs and began to lick. It had been a long day, but the night was still young.
The bright glow of morning sunshine reflected off the snow-capped western mountains and cascaded through our bedroom window, filling every corner with light. Some part of my sleeping brain registered the change in illumination and curiosity teased my eyes open.
My initial reaction was a momentary disconcerting sense of confusion that we all feel when waking up in a brand new place for the first time.
The mountains dazzled white and magnificent against the brilliant blue sky; Darlene slumbered next to me as naked as a newborn child. Her freckled face had the relaxed innocence of deep sleep.
The fog of confusion lifted within a few moments as I remembered yesterday's journey to the Colony. I became acutely aware of important business requiring my immediate attention; my full bladder and rock solid piss hard-on screamed for relief. I felt like a star of one of those annoying TV commercials featuring old men and their “urgent need to go.”
I got out of bed and raced, if you can call a stiff-legged gait racing, toward the bedroom door. I paused for a second to scan the room for a set of underwear to cover my nakedness. Increasing pressure on my bladder warned me not to delay. I exited the bedroom and moved toward the community bathroom as quickly as I could.
As luck would have it, none of the sisters were visible on our side of the balcony. My luck changed the instant I entered the bathroom. Alice was lathering up under the shower, and her nude daughter was brushing her teeth at a complex of sinks under a wall-sized mirror. Mother and daughter turned to stare at my erection and me, as I made a beeline for the toilet.
I stood before the open bowl, glanced around at my unwanted audience, and tried to take a piss. It's an unpleasant fact that pissing with a hardon is challenging, if not impossible.
There is an annoying little valve inside the prostate gland called a sphincter. Its job is to control urine flow in the urethra, and it is directly above the two ejaculatory ducts that bring sperm up from the testicles. The system is part of a man's hard-wiring, designed to prevent sperm and piss from mixing. The shut-off valve remains closed even with a raging boner until the erection starts to go down.
Maneuvering my erection in a downward direction was painful and awkward. I managed to dribble out a tiny stream instead of a golden relief stream. It was just enough to reduce the internal pressure on my bladder, which in turn reduced the pressure on my prostate gland and allowed my erection to subside. The dribble turned into a yellow river of pure relief, leaving my toes tingling as my penis returned to a flaccid state.
"That was fascinating, I've never seen a boy urinate before," Star said in a quiet voice.
The bathroom wasn't designed with modesty as a priority. The showers and walls were tiled and open, as were the toilets. Privacy was non-existent.
"He's not a boy, he's a man," Alice said, as she corrected her daughter's choice of nouns.
I turned my head to see Alice behind me toweling her hair dry. Alice's gaze, like her daughter's, fixated on my genitals.
Great! A mother and daughter inspection team - just what I needed.
I decided that I might as well clean up from last night. I stepped under the shower Alice had vacated and turned the water on to the hottest setting that I could stand. Maybe a cloud of steam would offer some privacy.
Crap! I had no soap.
"Alice, could I borrow your soap please?" I asked.
"My pleasure," Alice answered, as she joined me under the shower and started lathering my back.
I tried to figure out a polite way to discourage Alice's hands-on assistance when her daughter joined us and proceeded to lather my legs.
The sensation of two sets of hands caressing my body vanquished whatever objections I had over getting woman-handled. I could probably force myself to get used to pampering with a little bit of effort.
"You need to clean all his body parts, Star," Alice said, as she ran her hand between the cheeks of my ass and scrubbed my anus with her fingers. "Turn around so that we can do your front, Dennis," she said, as her hands turned my body to face them.
Alice soaped up my chest, and Star soaped my legs. I closed my eyes and let them do their thing as hot water rolled off my back. The sensation was incredible and arousing as the mother's hands scrubbed downwards and her daughter's small hands caressed upward. I wondered what would happen when their hands met at private parts in the middle; maybe they would arm wrestle for cleaning privileges.
"Am I supposed to clean his thing?" Star asked her mother.
"It's called a penis and, yes, it also needs to be cleaned," Alice instructed her daughter.
I looked down to see Star kneeling before me. She was at eye level, and only a few inches away from the beginnings of an erection. Star looked at me and back at her mother who nodded her head.
Star reached her hands out, and with a tentative and delicate touch, began to apply soap to my pubic hair. She grew bolder and spread the soapy lather along the length of my growing erection as her fingers created a flurry of lavender scented soapsuds.
I seriously doubt that Star had any idea of how her touch was affecting me. Her mother, on the other hand, knew damn well what was happening as she proceeded to “help” her daughter by circling my erection with her thumb and fingers and stroking me with enthusiasm.
Alice abandoned all pretenses at cleaning after a few minutes of pumping and moved full throttle into giving me a hand job. Alice had locked eyes with mine. She was smiling and unblinking as we made and kept intense eye contact.
"I will ejaculate if you keep this up, Alice," I warned her.
"I know," Alice said, as she rubbed her fingers around the tip of my glans and played with my pee-hole. The tempo of her strokes increased and abruptly ceased.
I looked down to see what was going on - or not going on in this case. Alice was guiding her daughter's hand to a glistening drop of precum which had formed at the opening of my urethra. Mother and daughter both shared the signs of sexual arousal. Nipples stood erect and hard, and a rosy blush added a glow to their faces.
"Notice how slippery it feels, Star. It's precum, and men produce it to help lubricate a woman's vagina to make penetration more enjoyable for both parties," Alice instructed her daughter.
The intense look of serious curiosity and wonder on Star's face almost made me laugh. I wouldn't have been surprised if Star pulled a pad of paper out and started taking notes. I let out a groan of pleasure when her mother touched the drop with her finger and smeared it around the surface.
Star mimicked her mother's actions with Alice's encouragement as she dipped her fingertip into another emerging drop of the colorless fluid and carefully spread it over my gland.
"Dennis will make more pre-cum if you continue to stimulate him," Alice said, as she caressed the length of my erection and, several drops of fluid oozed out of me almost on command. Alice continued to slowly milk me as her daughter used the tips of her fingers to spread clear lubricant over the crown my swollen prick.
I could feel the pressure building in my testicles, and my legs began to shake as my body tensed. I was close to going over the edge.
"Are you in there, Dennis?" Darlene's voice called as the door to the bathroom swung open.
"Come on in, Darlene, the water's fine," I answered with a less than steady voice.
A nude Darlene took a few steps into the bathroom before she stopped and surveyed the situation. Her eyes widened at the sight of the mother and daughter pleasuring me. Darlene's mouth opened in a mischievous grin, and she started to laugh.
"It didn't take you too long to introduce yourself to my friends. It looks like Alice and her daughter have the situation well in hand," Darlene punned with a chuckle.
Darlene walked over to Alice and whispered something into Alice's ear. Alice's only response was to giggle, nod, and stroke even faster.
"I'm going to cum," I moaned, as I passed the point of no return and my toes began to curl. I could feel a hot rushing sensation building up in my groin, and my body went rigid as a surge of sperm began to rush upwards in search of release.
Alice reached behind my body when I let out a long moan, slid her free hand between my buttocks, plunged her index finger deep into my rectum, and wiggled it to and fro. The intense pleasure I was feeling suddenly kicked into overdrive as my brain released an additional surge of endorphins. I exploded in an incredible orgasm of pure ecstasy and gratification while her surprised daughter tried to catch my ejecting sperm in her hands.
“That was interesting. Can you do it again?” Star asked as she cleaned her hands under the stream of water from the shower.
“Err, not likely. I need to recharge,” I sympathized with Jack in his box. The music stops when the monkey pops and the show is over.
Darlene and I returned to our bedroom a few minutes later, and Darlene burst out laughing.
"Alice is very proud of her homeschooling skills," when I asked her what was so funny. "She told me last night that she was thankful a man showed up at the colony. She said you arrived just in time to help teach her daughter advanced sex education. The curriculum apparently includes lots of hands-on field work, and there is a killer oral exam she'll have to pass if she wants to graduate, from what I understand."
We returned to our room after breakfast to find a note from Sheila pinned to our door. She was reminding us to join her on the front deck for an introductory tour of the Colony and surrounding area. The instructions also suggested that we dress for the weather.
Our walk-in closets looked like walk-in dumpsters. Everything we had brought with us in the Rav4 had been piled in the storage spaces like an unorganized jigsaw puzzle. I busied myself picking out an appropriate wardrobe for our tour.
I selected my favorite Indiana Jones style hat; a dark-brown, fur-felt fedora which had cost a small fortune. I had bought it online a few years ago in the mistaken belief it made me look like Harrison Ford. Fedoras are some of the most practical headgear known to man. The wide brim keeps the sun out of your eyes and sheds rainwater like a mini-umbrella.
I customized the hat with the addition of an eagle’s feather I had acquired at a yard sale. It counted as contraband since I didn't belong to a federally recognized tribe. Non-native people are prohibited by law from possessing eagle plumage and could be fined as much as a hundred thousand dollars and sent to prison for up to a year.
I decided to take the risk for the sake of fashion. I stuck the feather into the hatband, which was adorned with a small enamel replica of the red-yellow-green Vietnam Service Ribbon that I had earned when I finished my tour in Vietnam. I didn't think that I would run into any federal feather police considering the remote location of our mountain hideaway.
I preened in front of the full-length mirror, wearing nothing except for my hat, a beaded necklace with colored beads arranged in the red, yellow, and green colors of the Vietnam Service Ribbon, and a smile.
The handmade necklace was a work of art created by Paul Lavoie, a fellow Vietnam Veteran who’d succumbed to the effects of Agent Orange. I never met the man, but after he died his sister gave me the necklace under the conditions that I wear it in his memory and never take it off. I honored the man and his legacy by mentioning his name and story whenever someone asked me about the necklace.
"You're so vain that you probably think this song is about you..." Darlene sang in a perfect imitation of Carly Simon as she gave me a warm hug. "Wow, the cowboy hat makes you look sexy."
"It's not a cowboy hat, it's a fedora," I replied with a grin.
"Well, it's a very sexy fedora," Darlene whispered into my ear as she pressed her nude body against my backside. Her hands reached around me and began to fondle my semi-flaccid penis. The incredibly sensual feeling of her slender fingers delicately caressing the length of my shaft almost drove me out of my mind.
"I'm horny. Want to fool around?" Darlene asked.
"We're meeting Sheila in ten minutes; we don't have the time," I answered.
"Ten minutes? Isn't that nine more than you usually last?" Darlene teased.
I turned to face Darlene, dropped to my knees, and was eye level with her pussy. I positioned both legs in a wide stance and glanced at my wristwatch. Using my fingers, I gently opened the cleft of the mons pubis to reveal a pink clitoral hood. Beads of lubricant and a reddish glow around her vagina testified to Darlene's advanced state of arousal. She let out a little gasp and shifted her feet to maintain balance when I ran my tongue over the hood's length and licked the swollen clitoris beneath it.
I blew a cooling stream of air on the clit before placing my mouth over her genitals and exhaled a hot breath. The contrasting sensations were like fire and ice. I followed each sequence by giving the little man in the boat a rough tongue bath.
Darlene's legs began to quiver and tremble. She grabbed the back of my head to help steady herself and to maintain balance and pressed my face into her sex. Lick, blow, and suck, I increased the pace of my stimulation and was rewarded by a series of pants and grunts as Darlene's level of arousal increased. I slid my finger into my lover's vagina and stroked the rough G-spot with enthusiasm to speed her ascent as she climbed the mountain.
"Oh my God, I'm cumming," she cried, as waves of contractions squeezed around my finger. She suddenly lost all control and my mouth filled with liquid as she squirted and urinated. She pushed my face away with her hands. I loved the sight of her contractions as Darlene's clit pulsed in climax and streams of liquid trickled down the inside of her legs.
I looked at my watch again and announced, "One minute thirty seconds. I think that we have a new land speed record. Now we've got to hustle if we're going to be on time."
Darlene stood naked before me and tilted her head. With a woe-is-me face, she asked, "What about my afterglow?"
"Take it with you," I said, patting her bare behind.
Sheila was waiting for us with a warm smile when we arrived on the cabin's front deck more or less on time. I returned Sheila's smile as I gave her a pack of hand-rolled cigarettes and a red Bic lighter. The shadows still held a hint of last night's frost despite clear blue skies and bright sunshine.
"Follow me," Sheila said, as we set out on our tour of the Colony.
Our first stop was a utility building built into the base of the mountain with only the outer garage doors visible.
"This structure is designed to minimize the Colony's visual footprint. We don't want to draw undue attention to our presence because of Google Earth and the plethora of available satellite imagery. Our continued survival is dependent upon us keeping a low visibility, and we do our best to be invisible to the outside world," Sheila said, as she opened a set of outer doors to reveal a long dark tunnel blasted into the mountain's bedrock.
When Sheila entered the darkened corridor, motion sensors activated banks of overhead LED lighting which in turn illuminated the passageway for as far as the eye could see.
"Holy shit! Did you guys build all this?" The sound of my voice echoed off the walls.
The tunnel was a twenty-by-twenty-foot wide box ramping downward into the mountain's interior. The rough-hewn rock walls glistened with seepage and condensation. Drainage ditches lining each side of the corridor's crushed gravel roadway carried the excess water into the interior.
"The Liberty Mountain Mine was one of the several thousands of hard rock gold mines dotting the Rocky Mountains back in the 1860s. The claim never amounted to much of anything, and it went bust after three years. We took the existing mining shafts and adapted them to accommodate our fleet of service vehicles," Sheila explained.
The temperature gradually rose as we descended. We found ourselves in a large cavern after about three or four hundred yards. The cave contained a full-service automotive center, complete with a dozen vehicles of various deions. I spotted several snowmobiles, Jeep Cherokees, trucks of various makes and years and ATVs, along with a few front-end loaders and small Bobcats. I saw our Toyota Rav4 parked off to one side.
"Several of our sisters are excellent mechanics and vehicle operators. They do a fantastic job keeping our fleet up and running," Sheila said as she led us to a tunnel at the back of the cavern.
We followed the lighted passageway for a few thousand feet into another expansive cavern so large that the roof and far walls were lost in darkness. The hot and humid air in the grotto hummed with energy; the distinct whine of three megawatt steam-driven turbines filled the chamber with the low rumbling hum of power.
I was slack-jawed in disbelief. It looked like a scene out of the science fiction movie Journey to the Center of the Earth. Piping and heavy machinery at the middle of the cave surrounded a huge complex of hot springs and heated pools of water on three sides. A single story control center occupied space on the side of the pool nearest to where we stood.
Flowstone covered the walls of the cavern behind us and looked like waterfalls frozen in time. Stalactites reached down from the darkened ceiling, and thousands of stalagmites grew from the floor. Some grew as massive as trees. We followed a well-worn path through the stone forest while batteries of strategically placed LED streetlights bathed the area around the lagoon in a glow of whitish-blue illumination. I noticed that motion detectors kicked the lights nearest us into high power when we came into the range of a lamp; it was like walking under a searchlight's moving beam.
"Let's stop by and say hello to the technicians on duty. We'll have a cup of coffee and some conversation. I'll tell you more about this amazing place," Sheila said, as she pointed to a two-story building about the size of a raised ranch and motioned for us to follow her. Sheila climbed the exterior stairway and entered the building without knocking.
She shouted, "Surprise!"
"No fucking way, Sister. We've been watching you three on our security cameras for the last twenty minutes," said a thirty-something brunette as she gave Sheila a warm hug.
The slender technician was dressed in a loose-fitting one-piece coverall. The zipper of the hunter green outfit was pulled down to her navel, and it was clear at a glance that she wore nothing under her outer garments. I recognized the woman as one of the sisters from last night's meeting.
Thanks to air-conditioning, the interior of the control center was ten or fifteen degrees cooler than the cavern's air temperature. Wraparound observation windows provided a three hundred and sixty degree field-of-view.
A control panel filled with switches and dials below the window monitored the performance of the turbines and generators. Several large screens displayed different views of the underground labyrinth of caverns and passageways. Images and various views of the area around the cabin dominated one bank of displays.
Sheila said a quick hello to the two women on duty and then led us to a large conference table on the first floor of the control center. Three K-cups worth of hot steaming coffee awaited our pleasure in a couple of minutes.
"What is this place?" I asked as I took a sip of coffee. "It's incredible, whatever it is. No one has ever seen anything like it. "How on earth did you manage to build that?" I pointed out the window to the maze of generators and machinery at the center of the cavern and shook my head in disbelief.
"It wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. It turned out to be an engineering nightmare. We were able to hire a Swiss engineering firm to design and construct the entire system. Everything and everyone needed to build this facility were brought in by the heavy-lift air service. When they finally finished, we gave them a ten percent bonus to forget we ever existed. Lucky for us their banking secrecy laws encourages financially induced amnesia," Sheila laughed.
"This facility," Sheila tapped her finger on the conference table, "doubles as the control center for our geothermal generating capacity and also serves as a security command center in the event of an intrusion. We've wired every conceivable approach to our valley for sight and sound. We have acoustic sensor arrays and remote video cameras to alert us in the event of any intrusion."
Floor to ceiling maps of the valley and surrounding area covered one wall of the center, and banks of radio equipment filled another wall. I hadn't seen anything like it since I completed my tour of Vietnam. I had worked in the Out-Country Air Operations command center at MACV back in the day as we tried in vain to interdict the flow of enemy supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail.
The Air Force dropped tens of thousands of seismic and acoustic sensor arrays along the length and breadth of the trail system. The enemy couldn't fart without us knowing about it. It didn't do much good. Charlie had more farts in his belly than we had aircraft and bombs. Still, we had wired the trail like a pinball machine and played it every day.
"Our sensors are solar powered and have a ninety-nine percent uptime. We picked you up on our surveillance system when you were still ten miles out yesterday. Our security teams didn't go on high alert since we expected your arrival. On ready-alert maybe, but they weren't deployed to prevent your entry into the valley," Sheila said, as she pointed out the grease paint marking which indicated our route of travel.
"How often have you had a problem with intruders?" I asked.
"We've only had two incidents since we opened the cabin. The first was a troop of lost boy scouts. We intercepted them and redirected them back to civilization. The second time was when two escaped convicts wandered into our valley," Sheila said.
"How did that turn out?" I asked.
"Not so well for the convicts. They stumbled upon three of our sisters skinny-dipping in the river and decided to have some fun. They almost beat one girl to death and tried to rape the other," Sheila said, as her eyes narrowed and her expression hardened.
"The third woman was able to get away and radio security. We got there before they could do much more harm than they had already done," she said.
I remembered the hullabaloo over the escape of two men from the federal prison facility in Englewood. It eventually died down. No one ever found the escapees, and folks assumed that they had made their way to Mexico.
"What happened to the men?" I asked.
"I executed them and left their bodies for the animals. No trace of them remains," she said without elaboration. I noticed her hands were shaking as she was talking.
The phrase uttered by Robot B9 from the TV series "Lost in Space" rang like an alarm bell in my brain. “Danger Will Robinson, danger!” I had an increasingly uneasy feeling.
Sheila was a first class security freak, and she was telling me way too much and sharing too much information. If I couldn't earn her trust, there was no way she would ever allow me to leave this place alive. In her mind, millions of dollars and fifteen years of labor depended upon Liberty Mountain staying off the grid and a secret from the outside world.
She was a competent and capable commander, and the security of her family of sisters was clearly her number one priority. My mission was to figure out a way to become a fully-vetted member of the colony and to earn Sheila's complete acceptance.
Shit! She just confessed to murdering two men in cold blood. I tried to hide my involuntary shiver. I pulled out my pack of smokes out of my shirt pocket, offered a cigarette to Sheila, and took one for myself.
I felt a surge of sympathy as she smoked in silence. It wasn't for the dead rapists that I grieved, but for Sheila. Necessity forced her to take two lives to protect the community, and she would carry the memory to the grave. I realized with a shudder that she wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet into me if she thought it necessary to protect the colony. Having a cup of coffee with someone who one day could be your executioner was weird. Weirder still was the fact that I liked and respected her.
Memo to self: don't piss Sheila off.
"This is one of the secrets of Liberty Mountain. We decided to expand the network of tunnels leftover from the days when this site was a gold mine after we started to revamp the old cabin. Imagine our surprise when we busted through into this cavern. It's a geothermal treasure. It took us almost five years to engineer and design this system. Construction was a three-year process which cost us almost five million dollars to complete," Sheila explained.
I looked around in amazement as Sheila spoke and tried to imagine what kind of mind had dreamed all this up. I had the dizzy feeling I had woken up in the middle of someone else's science fiction novel. Darlene had told me that Sheila had been a college professor back in the day and she was reverting to form. Her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she warmed to her subject.
"We've pretty much run the generators nonstop for the last ten years. We keep one generator active and the other in reserve. Every few months we switch them out to perform routine maintenance.”
While she talked, Sheila moved from one window to the next as she pointed out the different aspects of the underground complex. Her enthusiasm was catching.
"We produce far more electricity than we need. The excess capacity doesn't go to waste because we use it to distill water into hydrogen. Our location is so remote that it's impractical to import gasoline. That's why we've converted all our vehicles to run on hydrogen. The cabin is steam heated. We keep the fireplaces going for their psychological benefits rather than for heating value. Our relationship with fire is both a primal and tribal thing. There's something about fire and an open hearth that makes a house a home," Sheila said, as she tapped the ash off her cigarette into an empty water glass which doubled as an ashtray.
"Let's take a walk. I've got a few things to show you guys," Sheila motioned for us to follow her as she exited the control room.
I couldn't help smiling. Sheila was beginning to sound like one of those infomercials on late night television. Just as she gilds the lily with more features than you could possibly imagine, she opens the next chapter with the words, "Wait! There's more..." or in this case, “I've got a few things to show you."
We followed the trail down to a winding passageway leading to another cavern deep under the mountain. After several hundred feet, the corridor emptied into an illuminated grotto. The air in the open space was thick with humidity and the rich scent of growing things. Before us was an expansive underground hydroponic garden, roughly the size of a football field.
The garden's computerized hydroponic system automatically operated with a minimum of human intervention. Row upon row of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and other vegetables thrived under a full spectrum array of an artificial lighting system. There was a patch reserved for Cannabis production. Forty or fifty dark green marijuana plants added a pungent and musky blend of sweet earthy fragrances to the air. Cannabis plants are packed with a bewildering variety of the same compounds and chemicals found in other plants. Kinda like a pleasant skunk flavored mint tea with a hint of mushrooms and lemon. Weird in a wonderful way.
"Our Colony is nearly one hundred percent self-sufficient in the production of food. We hunt deer and elk and take one or two a week. We also have a herd of thirty-five or forty free-range cattle and two dozen swine, to say nothing of our flocks of free-range chickens. The only foods that we still import are wheat for flour, coffee, and sugar. We could grow winter wheat in the valley, but the fields would stand out like a neon sign on satellite imagery. Speaking of food, it's time for lunch," Sheila said.
The Colony leader led us to an elevator shaft dug out of one side of the hydroponics room instead of following the route we had taken to the cavern. We emerged in the grand kitchen of the main cabin a few minutes later.
Our journey from cabin to cavern and back to the kitchen had left me in a daze. I felt like I had just witnessed an impossible magic trick performed with flawless precision. I blinked in the bright lights of the sisterhood’s cookhouse and shook my head. How many more rabbits were hiding in the bottom of her hat?
Several sisters, a few dressed in aprons and nothing else, were busy fixing the Colony's midday meal. Lunch consisted of the remainder of last night's venison stew, freshly baked bread, and a garden salad. The food looked and smelled as delicious as the naked backsides of the kitchen crew.
I didn't realize how hungry I was until I took a bite of the warm bread. The next ten minutes passed without conversation as we consumed lunch in blissful silence. I tried to process what I had seen on Sheila's tour of the Colony. What she and her family of sisters had constructed defied deion, and was Goddamned close to defying imagination. I wouldn't have believed such a thing was possible if I wasn't a witness.
"How did you find this place, and how did this community come to be?" I asked Sheila as I spread a pat of freshly churned butter on a new slice of warm bread.
"My father and I found this place by accident about thirty-five years ago. We were hunting on horseback and came up over a ridge, and we saw this spectacular valley below. The cabin was in ruins, but it was still beautiful. My dad knew these mountains like the back of his hand, but he had no idea this place existed until the day we stumbled on it." Sheila's eyes were closed as she shared her memories.
Several of the sisters took seats near us and listened intently to the conversation while the Colony leader told the story of the valley's discovery. Most of the lunchtime crowd was dressed in work clothes, although a couple of the women were nude. The mixture of dressed and undressed females was oddly erotic and distracting, and I had to force myself not to stare.
"We explored the cabin's wreckage. I was the one who found the old safe filled with stock certificates for the Liberty Mountain Mining Company - three hundred and forty-five thousand shares total. The original owners cleared out when the gold ran out, and the mine went bust."
Sheila paused and chuckled before she continued. "They even left a note which described the gold mining venture as a fool's dream and anyone stupid enough to try to make a go of it was welcome to the company and all its worthless holdings. We researched the business when we returned to Denver. Apparently, no one had filed paperwork to dissolve the corporation. Although dormant, it was still a legally valid entity."
"We had to settle nearly a hundred and sixty years worth of back taxes, fines, and fees to the tune of two hundred and forty thousand dollars to get on the right side of the law. It was worth every cent," Sheila said with a grin that would put the Cheshire cat to shame.
"Dad and I fixed the cabin up enough to be useful as a family hunting lodge. We came up to the mountains every year before he died. When he passed, I became the sole owner of the Liberty Mountain Mining Company."
Her words ended in a sigh as she stared out the window at the cavern beyond. A single tear trickled down her face.
“God, how I miss that man,” Sheila said softly in a barely audible whisper of remembered sorrow before she continued with her story.
"I continued to visit the cabin with friends and lovers after my dad passed. We fancied ourselves a 'Society of Sisters' and often daydreamed of starting an all women commune. Every week we pooled our money and purchased lottery tickets. We planned to split any winnings among the players. We used to daydream about winning and held many discussions on what to do with our good fortune to be so lucky. Then it happened. We found out that we held the winning lottery ticket to a huge jackpot," Sheila said.
The word about Sheila's history lesson spread and a dozen or more sisters joined the others at the table.
"Each sister could have cashed out with one point five million before taxes if we had split the money evenly, but the windfall would have been the end of our group. We decided, after much discussion, to pool our money and build a state of the art survival colony instead. The vote was unanimous," she said.
"I remember the vote well. I wasn't ready to live away from civilization, and turning my back on that kind of cash in my pocket was a tough choice. I considered the money as an alternative retirement account," Darlene said.
The attention to detail and planning which went into the Colony's creation was impressive. Sheila and her group spent a year creating a shell company to redeem the seventy-five million dollar winning lottery ticket to avoid the public attention associated with winning a large jackpot. The Society drafted a charter and a set of bylaws governing the community's operation.
Everything was open and democratic according to Darlene's remarks, and comments from several sisters, at least as open as a secret society could be. Free and open elections for Colony leadership resulted in Sheila's selection as leader, a post she had held without visible opposition for the last fifteen years. Members of the family of sisters were fiercely loyal to each other and to their leader. The fact that I was accepted, or at least tolerated, by Sheila did much to improve my standing as a guest.
"I love what you've done to the place."
"The only thing missing is children," one of the women said to Sheila.
The comment about children hung like a pregnant pause in the air. Looking around, I was startled to see all eyes were on me as the phrase “founding father” took on a potentially new meaning.
"Children might be a nice addition," Sheila said.
The tour of the Liberty Mountain camp consumed most of the day, and I welcomed the chance to sit down and collect my thoughts. We were back in the cabin with about twenty minutes to spare before dinner service, and I wanted to use the time to clean up before supper.
Darlene had left me on my own for the evening to rekindle a long lost friendship or love affair. Her parting words for the evening were, "Don't get into too many beds and if you do, save a spot for me." I had a real affection for Darlene. She was unusual in that she was emotionally loyal while also a free spirit when it came to sex.
We were as much fellow travelers as we were lovers. Ever try to force a cat to sit on your lap against their will? It never ends well for either the cat or your lap. The night belonged to me. I frankly welcomed a few solitary moments.
I went to our room, changed out of my clothes, grabbed a towel, a bar of soap, and visited one of the four community showers. Any hope of sneaking in for a quick scrub down without company ended when I entered the room.
The hour prior to the evening meal apparently was rush hour. I spotted the naked bodies of several females of various ages amid billowing clouds of steam. The way the light glistened off the women's skin sent a jolt of lust through me. The “slippery when wet” sensuality of water on naked flesh is a major turn-on.
I waited my turn by the sinks lining one wall. I glanced around for a urinal to use out of instinct. The designers of the women's restroom neglected to install plumbing for men, of course. Situational awareness demanded that I be more mindful of my surroundings until I learned the practices and customs of my new home. Looking for urinals in a women's bathroom equaled a major brain fart.
My voyeuristic presence in the shower room remained unnoticed by the ladies, so I took the opportunity to watch and relax as the sisters frolicked under clouds of steaming water. Each of the sisters shared a common physical trait with the others. In fantastic shape, the naked bodies displayed the lean and well-toned appearance of women who worked and played hard. The clothing optional dress code produced deep, bronze-colored natural tans. Even the most expensive tanning booths couldn't duplicate the deep golden hue of a sunshine tan.
The unlimited supply of hot water didn't lend itself to short showers. A person could spend the entire day in the shower without hitting cold water if they wanted to. Voyeurism soon gave way to impatience. I would be likely to die of old age before I got a chance to take a shower at the rate things were going. Finally, I left my towel on the sink and entered the clouds of steam with a bar of soap in hand in search of hot water.
My appearance at the center of the group elicited a short “Eek!” of surprise from Charlotte, who made an instinctive and half-assed attempt to cover herself with her hands. One of the women called out, "What are you doing in here, Dennis?"
"I'm here to clean up like you guys before dinner," I said.
"Well, come on in. The water's fine," Charlotte beckoned to me as she regained her composure.
She was by far the tallest woman in the colony and towered over me by six inches or more. I might just as well be standing in a hole when I stood next to her. I measured in at five feet, eleven inches tall.
She possessed a hefty and muscular body without a trace of fat. Her lovely tanned breasts weren't perfectly symmetrical like many women's. Her right boob appeared to be a half-cup size larger than her left side. Charlotte didn't shave her pubic hair or apparently anything else unlike most of the women in the colony.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to alarm anyone. Maybe I could schedule my shower for a time when no else is around," I offered.
"No, no, you're welcome to bathe with us. You just startled me. I forgot that there's a male visitor in our midst. I'm not going to start wearing clothes because you're here. Besides, it feels kinda sexy to prance around naked in the company of a man," Charlotte giggled. Her breasts jiggled as she bounced up and down on the tips of her toes.
"Okay, would you rather I wear clothing when I'm around in the evening, or is it alright with you if I'm as naked as everyone else?" I asked.
"Nudity is the norm around here, and you'll need to bare your backside like the rest of us if you want to fit in," Charlotte said with a grin. Something in her voice belied her smile. She meant every word.
I found the whole nudity thing to be kinda weird and erotic. I enjoyed looking at the wide variety of body types in the female landscape provided by the sisters. Heck, the exhibitionist in me got a thrill at the chance to strut my stuff. The objective critic in me realized that I was a certifiable old fart.
I had grown a bit too comfortable in my old age. I'm not overweight, but I tend toward the flabby side. My stomach and legs were as pale as a fish's belly. A box of rubber bands displayed better muscle tone than I did. I at least wanted to look sexy if I had to run around unclad.
The evening dinner, like all meals in the commune, was served buffet-style. Tonight's offering was Beef Wellington. The sisters in the kitchen displayed some serious cooking skills. Wrapped in homemade puff pastry, and an aroma of pure delight, the filet of beef tenderloin, assembled with liver pate, mushrooms, and onions truly was fine dining worthy of a five-star eatery.
I worked my way through the serving line and took a seat at the far end of the community table. I sat down in a social twilight zone; halfway between sitting close enough to be “next” to someone, yet far enough away to be “by myself.”
The last twenty-four hours had buried me under an avalanche of new experiences, people, sights, and sounds as I tried to adjust to my new environment. My senses were on edge from operating at a level of hyper-alerted awareness. I was suffering from information overload, which felt like a major case of jet lag in my situation. I took long, slow, cleansing breaths, and forced myself to relax as I centered myself on the here and now. I moved my mind to a place where there was neither a past nor a future, only the moment of now was real.
I could sense the tension draining away from my body like an outgoing tide with each breath I took. I had dabbled in Zen, self-hypnosis, and meditation when I was much younger. I closed my eyes and recited my personal mantra to help me relax and center in the moment.
Seek not the storm's fury
Nor it's jagged light.
Search instead for the quiet center,
and from there, stand against the night.
A voice asked, "Is this seat taken?" on the third or fourth recitation. I opened my eyes as Sheila wedged her nude body into the space next to me.
"Please sit down," I said after the fact.
"What are you doing?" Sheila wanted to know.
"I was meditating and trying to settle down and reduce tension. The last twenty-four hours have been hectic and eventful, and I'm creating a space to relax and process recent experiences," I responded.
The warmth of our bodies wedged together and the sensual heat of skin-to-skin contact had its effect on me. The tension I had been trying to drive out of my body returned as sexual arousal. Nothing I could do would hide my rising interest. If Sheila was trying to get my attention, she was doing an excellent job.
"Christ Almighty; you're as tense as shit, Dennis. A back rub will calm you down. Let's go up to my bedroom where we can relax and get to know each other better," Sheila suggested, as she took my hand and led me up the stairs to her quarters.
The dimly lit bedroom appeared much as it had the night before. The embers smoldering in the fireplace provided scant illumination - enough to see shapes, but little detail. Sheila instructed me to lie down on her bed, and she fetched two glasses of the delicious homemade brandy that she served me on the previous evening as I got comfortable.
I rested on my back with my head up propped up on her pillow while Sheila positioned herself next to me. We sipped our spirits in silence together for several minutes. Alcohol is as effective as meditation when it comes to reducing stress. My body was relaxed and as horny as hell within a short time.
"So, what did you think of your tour of our Colony?" Sheila inquired, as she absentmindedly fondled my thigh with her right hand.
"You've built an extraordinary place. I can't believe how lucky I am to be here," I answered.
"Do you think it was luck that brought you here?" Sheila asked.
"Well, it sure wasn't planning," I said, shrugging my shoulders.
Most of Sheila's body was in shadow except for the curves of her breasts which were highlighted by the glow from the fireplace. A soft, warm hand rubbed my inner thigh.
"This may be a stupid question, but are you trying to seduce me?" I asked with a slight grin as I realized that I sounded like Dustin Hoffman in the movie The Graduate.
"Maybe; what do you think?" Sheila replied, as her fingers stroked my scrotum. My growing erection twitched in response to her touch.
"What about the upper and lower case L for lesbian?" I said in reference to Sheila's comments from the night before.
"I'm also a capital 'L' leader, and I've made love to everyone who calls Liberty Mountain their home. It's my way of getting to know people. I can only trust a person if I've made love to them. Words lie, but the human body tells the truth if you take the time to listen," Sheila explained, while her fingers tenderly caressed my shaft.
"You're a lesbian. I thought you didn't like men," I said to Sheila as she continued to fondle me. My erection was now at full mast. I was so hard that it was almost painful.
"It's not that I dislike men; I prefer women. There have been a few male lovers in my past," Sheila replied, as the tip of her finger played with the clear drop of precum leaking from my urethra. My level of sexual arousal increased as she smeared the clear, colorless, viscous fluid over the head of my prick.
"Darlene has told me all about your lovemaking skills. Shit! She made more noise than a brass band last night. Everyone in the cabin heard you two going at it," Sheila told me as she traced the veins on my dick with her finger.
I watched as she played with me. Her face glowed in the light of the fire, and she was studying my trouser-snake with the intensity of a mongoose studying a cobra. She was playing me like a fiddle, and I could feel the pleasure building within me. Fuck! Premature ejaculation is a real buzz-kill. I needed to give Sheila her share of tender loving care, just to buy time.
"Enough. Lay back and take my place. Turnabout is fair play," I said, as I climbed to my feet and guided Sheila back into the spot I had previously occupied.
She had a bemused smile on her lips as she settled into my place on the bed. "What do you want me to do?" she asked.
"I want you to be happy," I said, as I leaned over her and lightly licked her lips. Sheila's eyes widened in surprise, and she resisted my kiss for an instant.
I gazed into her eyes as I stroked her cheek with my fingers. I slowly leaned forward again, nuzzled her cheeks, and kissed her closed eyelids. I traced the outline of her lips with my fingers and followed with a series of butterfly kisses.
I caressed her face, and chin, and nibbled the nape of her neck. I kissed her on her lips again as my hands moved across her shoulders. Her lips opened this time, and her tongue touched mine for a moment before it withdrew.
I looked into Sheila's eyes and whispered, "Do you want me to make love to you?"
"I'm not sure that I'm as ready as I thought," Sheila said with a sigh.
"It means you are not ready if you're not sure. Reluctant lovemaking is the second cousin to rape. You're an extraordinary woman, and I find you to be incredibly attractive and sexy. I'll make love to you when you ask me, but not until then. I don't attend parties unless I'm invited," I told Sheila as I took her into my arms and held her close to me.
Sheila shifted her body and rested her head on my chest. I thought I heard her whisper, “Thank you” as her breathing slowed. She was soon gently snoring in my embrace. I pulled the blankets over us and tried not to think about the pain in my balls.
Sheila's playful and seductive touch had brought me to the edge. I could have taken her at her word when she said that she wanted to make love to me to get to know me. There was no doubt in my mind that she would have allowed me to have my way with her. She was the one who’d suggested using sex as her way of getting to know her people, after all.
Sheila had boxed herself into a corner by making an offer she hadn't been one hundred percent comfortable honoring. I gave her the opportunity to withdraw without losing face when I asked her permission to proceed.
My grandfather used to tell me, “Sometimes we can only get what we want by not taking everything we can get.” He also used to remind me that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Sheila snorted in her sleep as she rolled over on her side and we nestled like two spoons in the kitchen drawer. She was quietly snoring again within a few minutes. I wrapped my arm around her bare body and held her close as I kissed her neck and soon joined her in slumber.
My bladder is the perfect alarm clock. The urgent need to go dragged me out of hibernation as the night sky brightened in advance of dawn. I awoke to the gentle sound of Sheila's breathing. Naked, beautiful, and warm, she lay next to me in the relaxed innocence of sleep. Sheila sensed a change in my position, shifted her body, and pressed her bare bottom into my groin as we snuggled together under the covers. My hand remained cupped to her breast. Sheila placed her hand over mine and pulled it tight to her body as she slept.
Our bodies cuddled together in blissful warmth. I wanted to stay under the sheets forever, but I needed to take a piss. With a bad case of morning wood, my erection found a home between the cheeks of Sheila's ass. As pleasant as it felt, I wouldn't be able to stop my body from unleashing a flood if I didn't get out bed soon. Wetting the bed wasn't an option.
I untangled myself from Sheila and silently slipped out of bed into the chill of the morning air. I adjusted the blankets to cover Sheila's exposed shoulder and made tracks for the bathroom. I decided to make a quick getaway instead of using the facilities in her room to avoid the awkward moments after a night in which nothing happened. I almost made it to the door when Sheila's sleepy voice called my name.
"Where are you going, Dennis?" she asked.
"Gotta go pee," I mumbled.
"Excellent idea; hang on, and I'll join you," Sheila said, as she threw the quilt back and climbed out of bed. "We might as well take a shower since we're already up," Sheila suggested while grabbing towels and soap from the closet.
Three members of the kitchen crew hard at work preparing breakfast were the only other people up and about in the hour before sunrise. We had the showers to ourselves.
We dried each other off after our morning scrub, and Sheila suggested, "Let's head down to the kitchen and grab a cup of coffee."
The custom of indoor nudity might make more sense if we were born kangaroos with natural pockets. I stopped by my room to make up for our genetic deficiency, put an unbuttoned flannel shirt on, stuck a pack of smokes and a lighter in the breast pocket, and joined Sheila in the kitchen.
Coffee is the nectar of the Gods and Colombia's only legal drug export. It's also a natural lubricant, allowing us to slide from dreams to wakefulness with a minimum amount of friction.
Coffee in hand, Sheila led me to a cozy nook next to the fireplace in the Great Room, and we sat together next to the fire.
"I want to talk to you about last night," Sheila said, as she sipped her coffee.
"Okay, what's on your mind?" I responded.
"Tell me something, I know I turned you on. Why didn't you want sex with me?" Sheila asked.
Her question was both delicate and dangerous. The wrong answer could do damage to our relationship, but I had no idea of what she thought the correct answer should be. I followed my grandfather's advice: tell the truth if all else fails.
I set my coffee down on the fireplace hearth, took Sheila's hands in mine, and looked into her eyes as I spoke. "Your body said one thing, but your words were saying something different last night. I listened to the truth that your body spoke. You weren't ready to get that intimate with me. "
"True, but I would've gone along if you had persisted," she acknowledged, as she gave my hands a soft squeeze.
"I figured that you would allow intercourse if I pushed it. You would be resentful, nevertheless, and that makes for a lousy start to our relationship. I would have selfishly screwed you to the floor if I only thought about my own gratification," I said with a grin. "I'll take your friendship if I have to choose between being your friend and being your lover and can't have both," I further explained.
My father used to tell me that the best way to learn the thoughts of another is to ask a direct question, shut up, and listen to the answer. "What about what happened, or didn't happen last night?" I asked.
"I was relieved at first when you asked for my permission, then I was pissed. I was confused after that. I was happy in the end. Maybe you didn't think me desirable enough, or maybe you didn't like me enough for us to fuck. I felt safe, loved, and cared for when you held me in your arms and stayed the night," Sheila said as she gave me a hug wrapped in a smile.
Silence filled the comfortable space between us as our conversation slowed to a stop. The colony's leader took a sip of coffee and studied me over the rim of her coffee mug for several moments before saying, "You're a strange man, Mr. Richards. Whatever am I going to do with you?"
Our zone of silence gradually evaporated as the sisters of the colony drifted into the kitchen for breakfast in ones and twos.
"Refill your coffee and grab a seat; we've got a group meeting in fifteen minutes," Sheila announced as she excused herself to prepare for the gathering. I set off to the kitchen looking for fresh coffee. Ready or not, a new day was getting underway.
It's a fundamental law of the universe: staff meetings seldom begin on time, and the Liberty Mountain assembly was no exception. Significant numbers of sisters hadn't taken a seat at the conference table yet. Start time came and went as Sheila kept glancing at her wristwatch and scanning the faces of the attendees for missing members. I also glanced around the table for Darlene who was among the missing. My lady love took starting times and deadlines as suggestions rather than requirements. She had a long established reputation for always arriving at the far edge of fashionably late.
Only the light tapping of Sheila's pencil on the tabletop betrayed her outwardly calm exterior. The taps steadily increased in tempo the longer we waited. It was as if the pencil doubled as a Geiger counter reporting that her frustration was approaching critical mass.
The giggles and laughter of several women echoed from the walls of the hall as if on cue. Darlene, Lucia, and a woman whose name turned out to be Sandra emerged from the kitchen moments later. I saw the trio and nearly burst out laughing. They were as drunk as skunks, and could barely keep from falling over as they staggered toward the meeting table.
Darlene took a seat next to me with a stumble and moaned as she held her head in her hands. She seemed like she had just come from an orgy: her hair was a mess, nipples stood like stiff pencil erasers; her shoulders, cheeks, and chest glowed like a neon sign with the rosy blush of sexual arousal. The swollen outer lips of her labia glistened with vaginal lubrication.
"Too much party," she groaned, as she leaned her body against mine.
"Too much sex?" I asked.
"There's no such thing as too much sex," she said with a burp. Her hand flew to her mouth as her face took on a greenish tint.
"But there is such a thing as too much (burp) brandy," Darlene gasped, as she bent double and barfed up who knows what over my bare feet.
Standing in a puddle of someone else's used dinner is over the top gross. I nearly lost my breakfast before I got my gag reflex under control.
"Clean up on Aisle Five," I called out, as I helped Darlene to her feet.
Sheila's expression was halfway between annoyed and amused. "We'll start the meeting as soon as we've gotten these guys cleaned up and into bed," she said.
I took a seat next to Alice and her daughter twenty minutes later. The meeting of the sisterhood of Liberty Mountain was finally about ready to start.
The flannel shirt I was wearing gave me the comfortable illusion of being dressed even though it was unbuttoned, and it covered none of my vital parts. Alice leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Is it true that you spent the night in Sheila's bed?"
"We kept each other company last night," I answered.
"Very interesting; will you keep me company tonight if I ask nicely?" Alice asked with a sexy smile as she placed her hand on my thigh and gently caressed my bare leg.
"Mom!" her daughter protested as she watched her mother's attempt to seduce me.
"Shush, little one. You'll get your turn after I check him out," Star's mother replied.
The touch of Alice's warm hand stroking my thigh in close proximity to my genitals was enough to get my libido's attention, and I could sense myself responding to Alice's invitation.
Part of me was amused at the turnabout in my love life since I arrived in the colony. I had always played the part of the seducer prior to my visit to the Society of Sisters. With the tables turned, I was now the target for seduction. The new state of affairs perfectly fit with my passive/aggressive approach to sex. I had always been the sexual aggressor early on, usually with mixed results when I was young. My advances ended in failure more often than I cared to admit.
"Your place or mine?" I said to Alice, as I moved her hand to the relative safety of my knee. I didn't want to sprout another public erection in front of so many naked women. Exhibitionism isn't my thing, as I said.
The gathering's primary agenda item was the question of work assignments. The concept was simple: many hands make light work. Maintaining the colony required a lot of effort and every member of the community had at least one assigned task or duty. The colony ran as smoothly as a Swiss watch when everyone pitched in.
I was the only person without anything to do after the sisters had divvied up the chores. Sheila called on me when I raised my hand.
"Freeloading is not my style; I need a chore. How can I contribute to our community?" I asked.
"You are my guest until your status here at Liberty Mountain is established. Feel free to help out wherever you can," Sheila said.
"Does anyone need a helping hand?" I said as I turned to face the gathering.
Silence answered my inquiry until Alice spoke. "Our sensors have picked up a deer herd about ten miles out. Lucia and I are on the schedule to go hunting this afternoon, but she isn't in any condition to do anything until she sleeps it off. You can tag along in her place."
"I've never been hunting before," I pointed out.
"Do you know how to shoot?" Alice asked.
"Sure. I took basic training and qualified as an expert marksman," I replied.
"Are you a member of PETA?" Sheila inquired.
"If you mean ‘People Eating Tasty Animals,’ then the answer is yes," I said amid chuckles and laughter from the sisters.
"Then it's about time you learn the manly art of hunting. Alice is extremely skilled, and she'll make sure you have all the appropriate gear. You two leave in an hour. Meeting adjourned, good luck," Sheila said.
"These mountains are as dangerous as they are beautiful. They might appear to be lovely and majestic but don't let 'em fool you. The beauty hides the heart of a killer," Brenda explained as she dug through her inventory, looking for a pair of gloves in my size.
"Got 'em!" she yelled as she held the object of her search aloft, a pair of insulated gloves joined the rest of my new wardrobe.
A slim and attractive woman in her mid-thirties, Brenda served as the colony's quartermaster. Medium sized, well-tanned breasts protruded from her chest, and a pageboy haircut framed her freckled face. The dented circular scar of a long healed bullet wound adorned her left breast, a few inches below her collarbone.
One wall of the armory displayed her honorable discharge from the US Army along with a citation awarding her the Army Commendation Medal for heroism, a Purple Heart for wounds received in combat, and an Iraq Campaign Medal. Ex-army and combat tested, she was the real deal.
The brand new garments still carried tags from LL Bean. I let out a long whistle when I did a tally in my head. The camouflage Gore-Tex hunting jacket and matching tactical cargo pants carried a hefty price north of eight hundred dollars. Gore-Tex is some amazing shit. The fabric is a lightweight, waterproof, and breathable membrane that repels liquid water while allowing moisture and vapor to pass through.
A pair of Gore-Tex lined winter hiking boots I had brought with me turned out to be the only article of my clothing which passed muster with Brenda. "The secret of staying alive in the wilderness is to stay warm and dry, and the proper clothing is your first defense," Brenda commented as she rummaged around for headgear.
"Is it true that we lose most body heat through our heads?" I questioned Brenda.
"We lose heat from any part of the body exposed to the air, but the head is a special case. For example, when hands are unprotected and exposed to severe cold, the human body tries to maintain a core temperature, and sometimes our bodies will shut down circulation to the hands to conserve heat," Brenda replied.
"The rapid loss of hand function is the net result. Eventually, they become useless popsicles. Our bodies will sacrifice our hands to save our lives. The head is different. Our bodies will never shut down blood flow to our heads, but it will sacrifice everything else to maintain our brains at a functioning temperature. Folks succumb to hypothermia and die from cold without ever realizing they are in danger," Brenda spoke as she produced an adjustable thermal fleece Balaclava Winter Face Mask.
"Is all this really necessary? We're only going hunting. We're not climbing Mount Everest," I grumbled.
"I use the 'parachute principle' when it comes to gear," Brenda said as she examined the facemask. Gear is like a parachute. It's better to carry one and not need it than it is to need one and not have it," she said with a laugh.
After a few adjustments and additions, Brenda smiled with satisfaction. My wardrobe now met her minimum standards for survivability in extreme conditions.
"You can't go hunting without a weapon." the quartermaster laid a Kimber 84M Mountain Ascent rifle on the counter for my inspection.
The rifle weighed in at less than five pounds. Fitted with a four round magazine, it fired a .30-'06 bullet with a muzzle velocity of a bit over three thousand feet per second. The rifle's two thousand dollar price tag was the heaviest part of the Kimber. Apparently, when you win the lottery, money is no object.
Brenda positioned me in front of a full-length mirror and, like a tailor, stepped back to admire her handiwork. "Very nice. Now you look like a hunter. The deer will take one look at you and die of fright," she noted with pride.
"More likely Bambi will die laughing. I feel like an escapee from an L. L. Bean fashion catalog," I said with a silly grin.
"Either way, dead is dead, and Bambi is dinner." Alice smacked her lips in anticipation of venison stew.
Unloaded rifle in hand, I followed her to the underground garage. A somewhat dented 2009 Kawasaki Mule retrofitted to run on hydrogen fuel would be our transportation. We spent the next fifteen minutes doing a pre-trip safety inspection.
I read out the items from our pre-trip cheat sheet, and Alice reported the status of each. Tires? Check. Fuel? Check. First aid kit? Check. Radio? Check. Emergency rations? Check. And so it went until we had checked each of the vehicle's systems.
Satisfied our pre-trip checklist was complete, Alice took her place behind the wheel. I climbed in next to her and rode shotgun, and we sped down the tunnel toward the exit.
Our Kawasaki Mule abruptly decelerated the moment we hit daylight.
"Why so slow? I can walk faster than this," I said to Alice.
"This is our exit protocol. We reduce speed when crossing the meadow to minimize damage to the grassland," Alice kept our speed to a crawl.
It was all rather clever. The Colony's survival strategy was to do nothing to alter the visual footprint of the valley. The likelihood of someone accidentally entering the valley at Liberty Mountain was modestly remote. However, it was a virtual certainty on any given day dozens of Google Earth's armchair explorers loaded images of the valley into their computers. Dirt trails left by vehicles exiting the mountain would attract unwanted attention.
Once we crossed the meadow and entered the forested area, the air temperature dropped like a rock as our rate of travel increased to a more reasonable twenty miles per hour. The ground was littered with splotches of sunlight mixed with patches of delicate feathers of sparkling frost left over from last night's deep freeze.
The ecosystem of the valley and the mountains idled between fall and winter as plants and animals braced for the arrival of winter and the season's first major snowfall.
"The herd we're hunting should be about fifteen miles ahead of us. We'll need to cross a steep ridge and two valleys to get there," Alice said.
Thanks to the modifications to our ATV's exhaust system, we journeyed westward in near silence. The sound of our tires on the rocky trail was louder than the whispering purr of our engine. As we topped the crest of the last ridge between our deer herd and us, Alice let the ATV coast to a stop.
The top of the rocky ridge offered a spectacular view of the snow-capped summits all around us, and the clear, chilly air gave the illusion distant mountains were much closer than they actually are. High overhead, the bright indigo sky of the morning now had a hazy white tint and high altitude streamers of wispy mare's tails and cirrus clouds smeared across the heavens from the west.
"Time for lunch and a potty break," she said as she secured the vehicle, killed the engine and dismounted.
"Great idea! I gotta go water some moss." Turning my back on Alice, I used my body as a modesty screen. As I was busy unzipping my fly, Alice moved next to me and stood at my side.
"Do you mind?" I protested.
"Don't get your knickers in a knot. Just pretend I'm not here," Alice responded with a wink. "Besides, you weren't very shy when my daughter and I were playing with you in the shower the other day," she reminded me.
Despite some major boundary issues, I was both amused and flattered by her interest in my man parts. Since our shower episode, she flirted with me and teased me at every opportunity. As much as I hated to admit it, I enjoyed the sexual flirting between us. It was a weirdly major turn-on.
My bladder was so full I started to leak and dribble. I gritted my teeth and tried to stem the flow. I didn't have time for an argument, so I raced to pull my prick out of my pants as quickly as possible. It was a photo finish. The floodgates opened just as the head of my dick cleared my fly.
My knees trembled in relief as urine drained out of me. I am at the age where my early warning system is a bit out of tune. The interval between the sensation of needing to take a piss and the uncontrolled act of urination was razor thin.
I turned to rebuke Alice for her bad manners. She was intently watching every movement of my man parts. Her eyes might just as well have been super glued to my pee-hole.
"Oh, shit! Now I gotta take a piss," said Alice as she succumbed to the power of suggestion.
"Would you like some privacy?" I made a point of drawing out and embellishing the final word of my question with extra syllables for dramatic effect. My version of "privacy" sounded like a blurry "Pretty-City."
"Thank you for asking," Alice said as she unbuckled her pants and lowered them and her blue cotton panties to her ankles. She squatted down, looked me in the eye, smiled, and pointed to her neatly shaved crotch as she let loose a thick stream of bright yellow piss.
I frowned at Alice for her exhibitionist behavior, and she burst into laughter. "Don't be such a prude. I caught you spying on me while I was spying on you. You liked what you saw so I gave you a show for the fun of it."
"Lady! That was no show. That was the whole damn circus," I growled as ' pretended to be annoyed. My stern demeanor crumbled when my shoulders started to shake with suppressed laughter, and my mouth broke into a grin.
"One day a voyeur and an exhibitionist walk into a bar and," I took a breath as I tried to remember how the joke went and my mind went blank. All I could remember was the punch line. "Here's looking at you kid."
An interesting fact of life: it is nearly impossible to stay pissed-off at someone when you are both sharing a laugh.
After the show-n-tell piss break, we got down to the business of lunch. The thermos we had filled in the kitchen prior to our departure produced two steaming hot bowls of the colony's legendary venison stew.
I studied Alice as I dug into my serving of stew. Despite our shared laughter, there was something about Alice's sexual advances and continuous flirting that didn't ring true. Why would a hardcore lesbian like Alice suddenly decide she needed a man in her life?
There was a frantic, almost desperate desire for us to engage in sex, so much so that she was even hinting at bringing her virgin daughter into the action. Even though they were both hotter than a Texas parking lot in August, I held my libido in check. Until I had a better understanding of the mother/daughter dynamics involved, I decided to make haste slowly.
Years of social trial and error had taught me the best way to clear the air between two people was to speak plainly. I liked to think of it as playing poker with my cards face-up on the table.
"Alice, we need to talk. Curious minds want to know, do you want us to have sex?" I said.
My blunt question seemed to take my hunting partner by surprise as she raised her eyebrows and blinked at me. She said nothing for several moments before responding, "Do you mean right now? Can we finish lunch first? Why do you ask?"
"At the meeting this morning you asked me if I would share your bed tonight if you asked nicely. Was that a real question or were you just flirting?" I inquired as I moved to sit at her side.
"I was serious. I wanted to know if you would make love to me." Alice's face took on a reddish tint as she blushed. "Dennis, will you make love to me tonight?"
"Be honest. You are a lesbian, and I'm an old fart. Why would you want to have sex with me?" I asked.
She looked at me in silence for the longest time before answering. "I am concerned about my daughter."
It was my turn to be surprised. "What does your daughter have to do with us having sex?"
"My home is Liberty Mountain, and I'm here because I love my sisters. My daughter has displayed no interest in sexual relations with other women, but she has shown a keen interest in getting to know you in the Biblical sense. I want her to explore her sexuality, and I want her to be true to herself. Star and I have had a few long mother and daughter talks about you. You are the first male she's met." Alice turned to face me and looked directly into my eyes.
"I warned her one man is not all men, and I told her I might give my blessings for her to have sex with you, but I would do so only after I've had a chance to check you out." Alice glanced at my private parts.
"Your daughter is still a child. I wouldn't feel right taking advantage of her that way," I sighed.
Alice gave me a sharp look. "Bullshit! How old were you when you lost your virginity?"
"I was fifteen, and she was nineteen." I had a hard time remembering who seduced who.
"So fifteen is old enough for boys, but eighteen is too young for a girl? Sounds like a fucking double standard, pun intended," she shot back.
"Okay. I get it I'm old fashioned. However, I still don't understand why you would want your daughter to have sex with me." I studied her eyes and searched for her answer.
"I want the best life for my daughter, and that begins by her being true to herself. If it turns out she likes men, I'm good with that. If she prefers women, I'm also good with that. If she's bisexual like her mother, that would be fine. I'll love and support her no matter who she is. Besides, I have a dream of someday being a grandmother," Alice said with an almost shy smile.
"What about you? Why is it so important that you check me out first?" I was looking for the truth behind her interest in me.
"Because if you turn out to be an asshole like her father, I won't let you near her, that's why. He was a lousy, selfish lover who cared nothing for the sexual needs of his partner," Alice concluded.
We spent the next several minutes in thoughtful silence as we finished lunch and got ready to resume our quest for fresh venison.
Our vantage point on the ridge afforded us a clear view of the deer herd in the valley a thousand feet below. Under the watchful eye of a magnificent stag, a dozen does graze along the banks of the stream flowing across the glen's floor. It would take all Alice's driving skills to traverse the pathway to the bottom.
"This is Liberty base. The National Weather Service has issued a revised winter storm warning for our area. Forecasters are calling for up to thirty-six inches of snow starting tonight at five o'clock PM with blizzard conditions beginning at 6:30 PM. Snow will continue throughout the evening and into late tomorrow afternoon. Winds south by southwest twenty to thirty miles per hour with gusts up to one hundred and twenty miles per hour along exposed ridges. Return home immediately. Please acknowledge."
"It's too bad we can't acknowledge a message we never received," Alice said as she turned off the radio's power.
I scanned the sky overhead. The wispy streaks of morning had given way to a high hazy overcast. Tops of advancing clouds were beginning to appear on the western horizon. The minuscule amount of weather lore I still remembered from my days as a Tenderfoot Scout told me high thin clouds and Mare's tails were telltale signs of approaching storm systems and usually signaled that a weather front was moving in.
We left base around 9:00 AM and had been on the trail for almost four hours. If we return now, we would make it home with barely thirty minutes to spare before the storm hit.
"We need to turn back if we are going to beat the snow," I urged Alice.
"No fucking way! I'm not getting this close without bringing back Bambi Burgers," she replied with a look of determination that could blister paint. "Besides, we can get down to the valley floor and back in less than thirty minutes. We should have time to spare. Not much, but enough. I didn't come this far to go back empty handed."
I wasn't going to win this argument.
The thirty degree angle of the slope and the sheer granite face of nearly treeless stone made for a treacherous descent. We had almost made it to the base of the ridge when our rocky trail abruptly narrowed before ending in a dead end at the edge of a vertical cliff. It was fucking frustrating. We were within a hundred feet of our goal. As far as we were concerned, our destination could just as well been on the dark side of the moon.
"Shit! I missed the turn, we're on the wrong trail," Alice swore as she reached for the radio and turned on the power.
Haste makes waste, but I kept my thoughts to myself as I scanned the sky.
"Liberty Base this is Hunter One, come in, please. Over." Alice paused and repeated her call, "Liberty Base this is Hunter One, come in, please. Over."
It was useless. A granite slab a mile thick stood between our location and the base's radio receiver, effectively blocking out our signal. The steady hiss of static ruled the airwaves. Alice handed me the radio's microphone and instructed me to repeat the call to base every five minutes.
Backing up the steep slope was a royal pain in the ass. Reverse gears are slow, and the best speed our Mule could manage up the incline was not much faster than a slow walk. Our retreat finally paid off when we came to a wide spot on the trail after twenty minutes of travel. Alice executed a tight three-point-turn, and at last, the front of the ATV pointed in the right direction.
The trail up the side of the ridge was difficult to follow. The overcast changed the light. None of the landmarks we passed on the way down looked like the ones we were passing on the way up the trail.
We blazed our own path and followed the contours of the ridge in an ever upward journey. Slow and steady wins the race in fairy tales. In our case, we won the ridge in an hour and thirty-six minutes and lost our race against the clock.
We used too much time backtracking, and there was no way in Hell we would be able to make it home before the weather turned to shit. Unless we could find a sheltered place to hunker down and ride out the blizzard, we would both be dead before dawn.
"Do we have the time and tools we need to build a lean-to?" I asked.
"Good idea. We have the tools, but we don't have the time. We've gotta find something almost ready made - like a cave, rock overhang, or a cluster of fallen trees," Alice said as she handed me a pair of binoculars.
We drove to an outcropping with a good overview of the eastern face of our ridgeline.
"Scan to the north, and I'll scope out the south," Alice said as she lifted her binoculars and searched our southern flank.
The heavy overcast of clouds reduced the daylight in the valley to near twilight conditions even though sunset was still forty-five minutes in the future. In a classic case of the lull before the storm, the wind died down to almost nothing. I felt a drop of wetness on my cheek and a few moments later another on my nose. Like the advance scouts of an approaching army, the first flakes of snow explored the ground around us.
"Damn it! There's nothing to the south of us!" Alice growled in frustration.
To the north, the slope of the ridge gave way to a nearly vertical drop. Conditions were favorable to the formation of rock shelters. Over the eons, slabs of granite had broken away and tumbled to the ground. I was looking for anything resembling a natural rock lean-to or cave opening.
"Alice! I think I’ve got something," I shouted with more hope than conviction as I pointed to a dark shadow in a land of shadows at the base of the granite cliff.
My partner studied the rock feature with her binoculars for a moment before slamming the ATV into drive and racing forward to possible sanctuary. Hope turned to disappointment as we got close enough to see the details of our target. We were well and truly fucked; the rock outcropping was too large and exposed to serve as a shelter. Daylight was nearly gone, and snow was falling as fast as the thermometer.
"Now what the hell do we do?" Alice pounded the steering wheel in anger flavored with fear.
"Let's check that out," I said pointing to a stand of saplings about a hundred yards to the left of the useless overhang. Maybe we could construct an emergency lean-to from the young Aspens.
We drove across the dusting of snow-covered ground and dismounted our vehicle. Flashlights in hand we inspected the thin grove of trees.
"Holy shit, there's a cave opening back here!" Alice shouted and pointed to a five or six foot wide opening at the base of the cliff behind the trees.
The remains of the aborted attempt at gold mining were almost hidden behind the stand of saplings. We explored the inside of the cave with our flashlights. Thankfully, it was uninhabited. The dry and dusty floor of the tunnel sloped upward to a level area, which formed a low, cramped chamber about fifteen feet across and twenty feet deep. At the most, we had about four feet of headroom. Whoever had been looking for gold hit a dead end, gave up, and went home. Bad for them, lucky for us.
"Unload the Mule and get our stuff inside, while I cut down as many saplings as I can with our survival saw," I said as I grabbed the folding cutting tool from the ATV's cargo bay.
Our plan was as desperate as it was simple. Cut as many of the young aspens as possible, slide the trees into the cave opening, and use the thin branches and remaining leaves to block the wind. As the storm raged, the crowns of the trees would collect snow and form an impenetrable shield against the wind. The narrow trunks of the young trees were only four or five inches in diameter, and the saw made for fast work. Within fifteen minutes, I had almost a dozen saplings down on the ground.
I had finished cutting the trees and by the time I was done, snow and night were all around us. Winter had arrived with a vengeance. Alice finished bringing the last of our gear into the cave, and together we hauled away at the fallen aspens to plug the entrance as best as we could. Alice and I had no choice; the rock cavern would be either our salvation or our grave.
As I adjusted the position of the last tree, Alice screamed, "Snakes! Oh my God, look at 'em all, the fucking cave is filled with rattlesnakes."
In the confined space of the cave, Alice's distressed cry reverberated off the walls, so loud my ears hurt. I scrambled to be at her side. She sat in a fetal position with her arms wrapped around her knees and her whole body trembling like a leaf in the wind. Fear distorted her face, and her eyes closed so tightly her facial muscles twitched with the effort.
A tiny voice uttered from her lips, repeating a single word again and again: snakes. Kneeling next to Alice, I put my arm around her shoulder and held her tight until her trembling lessened to not much more than a shiver.
"Where are the snakes?" I kept my voice calm and measured.
"Uhh, everywhere," she said.
"Where is everywhere? Can you point them out?" I said as I gently pressed her for details.
"Over there," she answered as she pointed to the right-hand side of the rocky cavern, "and over there," she said gesturing to her left.
The blue-white beam of my tactical LED flashlight lit up the last place Alice indicated. I nearly let out a scream of my own. Against the rock wall, at least seventy-five fat sleeping rattlesnakes knotted and piled together like a braided rug. Several dozen more snakes clumped and piled together against the opposite wall. She was right; hibernating snakes were all around us.
When an old-timer first told me every dry cave in the mountains contained a snake den, I laughed at him. All around us, I surveyed the living proof of his words. The old man made his living as an environmental scientist, and he was obsessed with snakes, specifically the Rocky Mountain rattlesnake. Racking my brain, I tried to recall what else he had told me about our legless friends.
Venomous snakes, such as rattlers, hibernate when the average daytime temperatures fall below sixty degrees Fahrenheit. In the high mountains, their favorite winter quarters are caves and deep crevices. While in hibernation, snakes are lethargic, torpid, and essentially unresponsive zombies as their metabolisms slow down to the minimum necessary to sustain life.
He said not all snakes survive hibernation. A skinny snake will not live through the winter, nor will a snake with food in its stomach or intestines when they cool. The undigested meal will rot and kill them.
Other than a heavy-duty icky factor, the slumbering reptiles posed little danger to us as long as we left them alone. I shuddered to think about it, but our slumbering cavern mates might prove to be a useful source of food.
The first priority was to help Alice regain her composure. I shared and understood her fear of snakes. Fear is useful and can provide the necessary adrenaline to power us through dangerous situations. On the other hand, too much fear has the opposite effect; often paralyzing a person into inactivity. The secret was to find a healthy middle ground between terror and bravado.
While I comforted Alice, I used the beam of my flashlight to explore our shelter. The dry soil of the cavern's floor could just as well have been talcum powder. The ATV's survival gear lay scattered about where Alice tossed it when we scrambled to get everything inside the cave.
To survive the blizzard, we needed to organize ourselves. Our situation reminded me of the scene from the movie, The Martian when the stranded astronaut faced the camera and said, "To survive I'm left with only one option, I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this."
In our case, we needed to use our heads and think the shit out of our predicament. Our biggest threat wasn't sleeping snakes, it was creeping hypothermia. The chill air drained our bodies of heat, and unless we figured out a way to keep warm in our shelter, the cave would become our tomb.
Turning to Alice, I said, "Let's collect our stuff and do an inventory. We're gonna need to come up with a plan of action."
We gathered our meager stash of supplies and arranged the gear in front of us as we huddled together for warmth. We had salvaged an odd assortment of survival items including:
* two Kimber 84M Mountain Ascent rifles and a twenty round box of ammo
* two winter sleeping bags (rated to fifteen degrees)
* two all-weather mylar space blankets (useful as ground cloths)
* one Marmot Tungsten three-person three-season tent
* folding survival saw
* four packages of Meals Ready to Eat
* First Aid Trauma Kit
* Rayovac LED lantern (one hundred fifty-hour battery life)
* one plastic vial containing twenty-five storm-proof wooden matches
* compact snap-together stainless steel Hobo Stove
* One gallon stainless steel cooking pot with cover
* two metal water flasks filled with nearly frozen drinking water; tin cups attached
* three ounce bottle of Japanese sesame seed oil
* ready box containing: a mess kit, one bag of zip lock and plastic shopping bags of various sizes, Pocket Thermometer (zero to two hundred and twenty degrees), deck of cards, twenty-five tea bags with twenty-five sugar packets, three energy bars, a tin of 25 beef bouillon cubes, a bar of Lava soap, and a SAS Survival Handbook in Spanish
Huh? Spanish? What the fuck? I shook my head in bewilderment.
I emptied the contents of my pockets and added a KitKat candy bar, a pack and a half of cigarettes, one Bic lighter, a small glass pot pipe, and several buds of potent homegrown weed to our collection.
The branches stuffed in the entrance of the cave rattled as the blizzard's howling wind intensified and the air temperature dropped. The interior of the cave was too large to heat, and if we wanted to stay warm, we were going to need a smaller confined space. We decided to erect the tent to use as a shelter within our shelter.
All components of our tent were color-coded, and within a few minutes, we had all the pieces assembled. Staking our tent in place was a bit more problematic. The thin layer of dusty soil on the fifteen-by-twenty foot plateau was not deep enough to drive a tent peg into the ground. We improvised by filling several plastic shopping bags with dirt and used them as anchors to keep the shelter in place. The finished product would have been the laugh of the neighborhood if anyone could see it. Our poor tent leaned to one side like a drunken sailor as its top was squashed and misshapen by the uneven ceiling. Oh, well! We weren't trying to win Tent of the Year in the Better Caves and Snake Dens magazine.
In addition to practical benefits of an easier to heat space, the finished tent provided a much-needed psychological boost. At least the snakes all around us were outta sight. Once we finished zipping our sleeping bags together, I brought the rest of our gear inside our cozy little ice box.
"I don't know how long we're going to be stuck here, but if we don't want to sit around in the darkness, we're going to have to conserve our batteries," I said as I turned off our tactical flashlights and switched on the Rayovac lantern to the lowest setting. The smoky white mist of our breath glowed in the lantern's light, every time we exhaled as a visual reminder of how God-awful cold our shelter was.
"Pip pip and cheerio, my dear, would you care for a spot of hot tea before we retire for the evening?" I asked Alice as I mangled my attempt to invoke an excessively proper English accent.
"Ha ha, funny. It ain't nice to joke about hot tea while I'm freezing my ass off." Her body trembled and shivered as she replied between chattering teeth.
"Who's joking? We've got a Hobo Stove, plenty of fuel, a tea bag, water, a customer, and more time than we know what to do with, so why not?" I answered as I dug through the gear we’d salvaged from the ATV.
The Hobo Stove is the clever invention of some unnamed and forgotten hobo genius of days long gone. The stove's design is elegant in its simplicity. A resourceful camper could build a fully functional metal stove from scratch in five minutes or less with only a tin can and a church key can opener.
Coffee cans are the ideal raw material, but any thin metal container will do the trick. All that is necessary is to remove the top of the can while keeping the bottom in place; then a ring of evenly spaced rectangular holes are punched around the top and base of the can for ventilation. Finally, a series of randomly placed carburetor holes are punched through the sidewall of the can with the church key. Happy days! You have just built a survival stove.
The beauty of the tiny stoves is they are highly efficient, produce a minimum amount of smoke, and use far less wood than a traditional campfire.
In our case, our hobo stove was a bit more refined. Weighing less than sixteen ounces, it was a stainless steel design consisting of five snap together sheet metal plates and a few cross members. I assembled it and sat back to admire my handiwork.
Flashlight in hand, I told Alice, "I'll be right back" as I crawled toward the cave's opening in search of fuel. The heavily falling snow was busy turning the crowns of the young Aspens into an effective windscreen. Between the trunks of the saplings, I found piles of dry, windblown leaves I would use as kindling to start my fire. I cut several small branches for fuel and shaved off strips of wood and bark from one of the tree trunks with my hunting knife. I lucked out; I also found a book-sized flat stone I could use as a base for our stove. The rock would keep the little stove from turning our tent floor into a puddle of melted plastic.
In the center of the tent, next to our combined sleeping bags, I set the assembled stove on the flat rock, and I lined the bottom of the can with dry leaves, followed by small twigs and then a layer of larger sticks. The idea was to use the smaller fuel to ignite the larger pieces of wood. The tin can is a natural chimney, and the interior metal surfaces reflected the heat back on the unburned fuel. When I was finished, I set the leaves ablaze with my Bic lighter.
I opened the screened ventilation flat at the top of the tent and kept the bottom of the tent entrance open a crack for fresh air to keep carbon monoxide fumes from asphyxiating us.
Since carbon monoxide is heavier than air, I figured any excess would accumulate at the bottom of the sloping entrance to our cave. At least that was the theory. Nonetheless, I decided we should limit the use of our cook stove to no more than two or three times in any twenty-four hour period, just to be safe.
Once I had the fire well established, I set a tin cup filled with water and a single tea bag on top of the stove. About ten minutes later the liquid was at a rolling boil.
"You might want to let it cool down a bit before drinking," I warned Alice as I handed her the cup after retrieving the tea bag and splashing a bit of ice water on the cup's handle so she wouldn't burn her fingers or hand. "Care for any sugar?"
Alice shook her head, no, and smiled for the first time since we’d received our radio warning. "Thank you," she said as she took the steaming mug of tea from my hands. "Thank you very much," she whispered as she leaned forward and kissed my cheek.
I used the recycled tea bag to make my own cup of tea. Waste not, want not.
The air temperature inside the tent was a friendly sixty-five or seventy degrees and worked in partnership with the steaming tea to take the chill of winter away. At least for the moment. We decided to skip dinner to conserve our food supply. We would eat in the morning.
Turning off the lantern to conserve its battery, I was startled to see how cozy and romantic our setting was, as long as you left snakes out of the picture. The light from the dying embers of our fire painted the interior of the tent with a sexy, warm rose-colored glow. Our joined sleeping bags and Alice's sweet kiss hinted at all sorts of possibilities.
That's it! I scolded myself, I am officially stupid. What kind of fucking idiot thinks about sex at a time like this?
"Come on Dennis, we need to get undressed and under the covers, before it gets cold again." Alice leaned her head on my shoulder.
"Undressed?" I raised an eyebrow and gave my hunting partner a hard look.
"Of course, silly man, how else do we share body heat? Do you know another way we can avoid hypothermia?" Alice nuzzled and hugged me tightly. "Besides, it'll be fun." She gave me another hug, longer than the last.
In an effort to protect my honor, I started to protest and instead burst out laughing as I thought of an old joke.
"What's so funny?" she asked as she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked into my eyes for signs of rejection.
"Nothing. Our current circumstances remind me of a funny story I heard years ago. It goes something like this: once upon a time, a terrible storm forced a beautiful maiden and a traveling judge to take shelter for the night in an abandoned cabin. To pass the time, and to stay warm, the young girl offered her honor. The judge honored her offer. All night long, His Honor was on her and off her," I laughed.
"Okay, I'll strip down to my underwear, and you do the same, deal?" I rose to my knees and accepted her hand as she helped me to my feet. My knees were high mileage, and they sucked. Such is life.
"Alright, you've got yourself a deal. You go first." Alice's smile widened into a silly grin as she fired up the lantern and held it aloft. "Showtime."
I took off my jacket and spread it open on the sleeping bag. Alice watched quietly, her eyes wrinkled in puzzlement and curiosity. I removed my flannel shirt, folded it neatly, and placed it in the center of my jacket. I dug my Bic lighter and a half-full cigarette pack out of my pocket and deposited them next to my jacket. Moments later, my folded trousers joined the shirt in the center of my coat.
Dancing from one foot to the other with Alice's hands steadying me, my boots took their place at the foot of our bed. I draped my socks over the tops of my boots to air out; might as well start the next day with dry footwear.
Dressed only in my tighty whities and a tee shirt, I knelt down, folded my coat into a pillow with my clothing as stuffing, and placed it at the head of the bed. As far as headrests went, my improvised bundle was more comfortable than a few of the crappy motel pillows I had slept upon over the years.
"Very inventive." Alice smiled as she removed her coat and mimicked my creation as she constructed her own pillow.
When she was finished, she stood in the circle of light from the lantern, barefoot from her toes to her chin.
"No underwear?" I nodded my head toward her midsection.
"This is my underwear; it's called Poils pubis el natural part of my French heritage," she explained.
"I don't speak French. Want to try that again in English?" I asked.
"Pubiens el natural is just a fancy way of saying, natural pubic hair," Alice answered with a chuckle.
"I thought you were Polish," I observed.
"I'm both. This is French fur over a Polish pussy," she giggled as she twirled like a clumsy ballet dancer.
I couldn't keep myself from smiling at her amazing recovery. Not too many women got a chance to go from nearly comatose with fear to saucy, seductive, and sexy all in the same day.
"Ladies first," I held up a corner of the sleeping bag.
"Yikes! It's an ice box," Alice gasped as she slid between the covers. "Get your ass in here, I'm freezing," she said while pulling me down to my knees.
Grabbing my smokes and lighter, I slid them under my pillow and parked the lantern within easy reach on my side of our sleeping bag. I gathered our flashlights together and handed her one while I tucked the other under my coat. The last thing we wanted to do was to wake up in total darkness and play blind man's bluff searching for a flashlight in pitch-blackness.
"Good God! You weren't kidding," I grumbled. The interior of the sleeping bag was not much warmer than the surface of an ice cube.
Within seconds, Alice was all over me like an octopus. She pulled me into a spooning position with the cheeks of my ass pressed into her crotch and her arms wrapped around my chest, and her breasts pressed tightly against my back. She tangled our legs together and rested her chin on my shoulder as she wielded her naked body to mine in the most intense sensual hug I've ever experienced. The only thing missing was super glue.
In a few minutes, we were toasty warm. The human body is a remarkable heat engine capable of generating as much as twenty-four thousand BTUs of body heat per hour when engaged in strenuous work or passionate sex. When we're at rest or sleeping, our heat production drops to a cool three hundred and fifteen BTUs an hour. On average, we generate the same amount of heat as a hundred watt light bulb.
"I'm going to kill the light to save the battery. Be sure you know the location of your flashlight."
With a click, I plunged us into the heart of total darkness. Suddenly we were in a blackout so intense we are unable to tell if our eyes are open or shut. It is true when we lose our sight our other senses kick into high gear to compensate for the loss of vision. The sound of our breathing and the crinkling rustle of our fabric sleeping bag seemed to grow louder as the night smothered the light.
We could just as well have been two blind mice exploring each other in a lightless world. We could only "see" what we touched. As we nestled together, my sense of touch also kicked into high gear. I could feel Alice's stiff nipples poking me in the back as she pulled me tightly to her body. She shifted her position and tightened her hold on me. It was as if she was trying to crawl inside of me, her octopus grip became the embrace of a boa constrictor, almost painful in its intensity.
I relaxed my body and allowed myself to melt into her embrace. She radiated body heat like a furnace, and her warm moisture-laden breath tickled the side of my neck each time she exhaled. As her breathing slowed, we slipped into the twilight of comfortable togetherness.
I must have dozed off for a few moments when I became aware that something had changed. The effortless exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen became a long labored sobbing, which shook her whole body. I could feel her tears trickling down my neck.
"I'm so sorry, Dennis. This is entirely my fault. We're going to die, and I'll never see my daughter again. I should have heeded the storm warning on the radio, I'm so terribly sorry," she cried as her words gave voice to the fear I felt.
Turning over to face her, I touched her face with my fingertips and brushed her tears away as I whispered, "You are right. We, and the emphasis is on we, should have listened to the warning. This is not all your fault. It is our fault. You made a bad call, and I let it stand. I also own this blunder. I was your partner and junior member of this hunting party, and I failed to speak up." I kissed her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears. "We're not dead yet. We got into this mess together, and we'll get out of this mess together."
I held her to my body and caressed her hair as sleep slowed her breathing. Far away from the edge of hearing, the muffled lullaby of the wind became a song of despair.
The gentle nudge of Alice's hands dragged me out of my sleep.
"Dennis, I'm sorry to wake you, but I've gotta piss so bad I can taste it. I need your help," she said as she pulled me into a sitting position. Our warm and cozy tent had turned into an icebox.
"You gotta be kidding; since when do you need help taking a piss?"
Reaching under my makeshift pillow, I fished out my light and turned it on. In front of me, a naked Alice sat huddled, her breath streaming like smoke from her mouth, and nipples hardening like pebbles in the chill air.
"I need your help. I don't want to go outside, by myself, in the dark. Not with all those fucking snakes," Alice said with a shudder.
"Then don't go outside, use the chamber pot," I glanced at my wristwatch, we had been asleep about six hours and sunrise was still an hour away.
"We don't have a chamber pot." Alice scanned the contents of our tent for confirmation.
"Oh, no! Not that that'll be gross," her eyes widened in alarm as I pointed to the stainless steel cooking pot.
"You have three choices: pee in the pot, pee in your pants, if you wore any, or go pee with the pythons." I knew her dilemma wasn't funny, but I couldn't keep from chuckling.
Holding the flashlight aloft for illumination, I watched as she straddled our improvised toilet and squatted down. Alice let out a plaintive yelp! when her bare bottom made contact with the ice-cold stainless steel rim.
"Squat, don't sit unless you want a frozen fanny," I let out a sympathetic laugh.
Alice made a face, stuck her tongue out, hunched down, and with a little grunt kicked her sprinkler system into high gear.
I scrambled to get dressed in the near freezing air as my scrotum tried to pull everything inside of me in an effort to keep the family jewels snug and warm. My nuts were responding to the same instinctive response to the chill air which caused Alice's nipples to become stiff and hard when cold. Her body tried to protect the twin sisters from getting frostbite by increasing the blood supply to her milk outlets.
All of which made summer trips to the frozen food section of supermarkets such an enjoyable experience for voyeurs. Humans are hardwired to stay sexy and productive for as long as possible. How else could we have managed to survive the ice age? At least, that was my theory.
When I came across something, which sparked my curiosity, I often concocted a theory to answer the question, "Why is this or that like it is?"
I never bothered using Google or Bing to find out if my guesses were correct. If they were? Great. But, if they were wrong it would be proof I needed to get a life and stop wasting my time pretending to be smart. Frankly, I wasn't eager to find out if I was using brain cells thinking about bullshit.
I was more awake than I wanted to be, so I left Alice to her business, retrieved my clothes, got dressed and headed down to the tunnel entrance. I wanted to check things out and snag some fuel for a hot cup of tea. Memo to self: I want caffeine with attitude. Make sure future survival kits include instant coffee.
The tunnel's entrance was wider and deeper than the rest of the cave, and it was a relief to be able to stand upright without banging my head on a rock ceiling. While the air in our cavern was almost freezing, the temperature at the entrance was absolutely arctic. The snow trapped in the crowns of the saplings sparkled and glowed in the light of my torch. The storm had done an excellent job sealing our stone shelter from the weather, maybe too good of a job.
The air in the foyer was as still as death. I grabbed the base of one of the smaller saplings, pulled it toward me, and pushed it out in an effort to break open an air passage. I could drag the tree inward without too much effort. But, when I tried to force it outward I could make no headway, even when I pushed with all my might.
It was like trying to push a pillow into a sand dune. I tried another sapling. Second verse, same as the first.
I gave the base of each sapling a push. None of them moved. Our shield had become an airless prison. It was unlikely we were in any short-term danger of running out of oxygen. The real threat was being poisoned by carbon dioxide. CO2 becomes mildly toxic at a concentration around a percent or so. Eventually, the atmosphere in the cave would go bad, and we would die of carbon dioxide poisoning long before we ran out of oxygen. We needed to open an air passage to the outside. Pronto!
"Alice, can you give me a hand down here, I think we have a problem with our air supply." I leaned against the cave walls and used my feet to try to move another small tree. Zilch, Zero. Nada. The damn thing might as well have been a parking meter planted in concrete.
Leaning against the rock wall of the entrance, I caught my breath. My guess? Our sapling shield lay buried under the mother of all snowdrifts.
The dark wall of snow sealing the entrance of the tunnel sparkled and glistened in the moving beams of our flashlights. Alice paused for a moment to wipe the sweat from her forehead. After digging into the embankment for almost an hour, we had almost nothing to show for our efforts.
“Time for a break." Alice leaned her back against the rock wall of the tunnel and rested her head against the rough surface as she pushed several stray strands of blonde hair out of her eyes.
"It should be about sunrise," I glanced at my wristwatch and back at the snow, searching for any sign of light from the outside. A faint glow would tell us where the snow cover might be thinner than the rest. No glimmer of light entered.
With a sigh, I leaned against the wall next to Alice and took a deep breath followed by another. My fingertips tingled with the same feeling I got when my arm falls asleep.
The blizzard and the drifting snow did an excellent job blocking the entrance. Digging in the drift would have been easier if it were not for the tangled branches of the young Aspens. The barren foliage and sticks acted like rebar in a reinforced concrete retaining wall. Running the Boston Marathon would have been easier compared to digging an air passage between all the woodwork.
"Dennis, it's getting hard to catch my breath." Alice's chest heaved as she inhaled a long breath. The annoying headache dancing in the shadows stopped hiding and announced its presence in a wave of pulsating pain keeping time with my beating heart.
We were on the leading edge of CO2 poisoning and like the canaries in a coal mine, we didn't have any place to go. I kept pawing at the snow as I removed one handful of white stuff after another. I would dig a little and stop for a minute or two to catch my breath and dig some more.
Somewhere within the recess of my mind alarm bells sounded. A tiny part of my brain jumped up and down trying to get my attention. All rather annoying and I told myself to settle down and take a nap. A nap would be so fantastic right about now.
I rested my head on the arm I used for digging and took another breath. I will just rest here for a moment. Warm and cozy, a snow cocoon surrounded me in my new tunnel. Do butterflies dream when they sleep?
"Dennis! Dennis! Move. I got it," Alice's hands shook my body as she pulled me back toward her.
"Whatcha doing? This is no time to cut firewood." I rested against the warm snow as Alice crawled past me with a saw in her hands and took my place where I had been digging.
"Son of a bitch! Grunt. God damn it! Ugg!" Clumps of snow mixed with twigs, branches and sticks flew out from behind her.
"Whatcha doing?" I asked again. My voice called from a million miles away.
"I'm cutting my way through the fuckin' snow. I'm not, ah fuck it, I'm not, God damn it! Digging," she kicked a huge snow block bristling with sticks and branches out of the hole followed by more cursing and more snow and wood.
My field of vision kept getting smaller and narrower. How strange? I found myself in a tunnel looking at myself in a tunnel. I wanted to tell Alice to stop making so much noise and let me sleep, but my voice was lost in the fog filling my head.
So warm, so restful. I closed my eyes in a cozy blanket of sleep when a blast of freezing air hit me in the face. What the hell? I inhaled a satisfying breath of fresh freezing air and another. I could feel the fog in my head clearing each time I inhaled.
Son of a bitch, she had done it. She had fucking done it! She opened a passageway to the outside.
Driven by the blizzard's gale force winds, a tsunami of sub-zero temperatures cascaded through the opening carved by Alice. Whatever body heat and warmth we retained under our clothing were swept away like sandcastles in the rising tide of Arctic air.
"We've got to warm up!" I put my arm around Alice's shoulders and pulled her close to me. Her body was shivering and trembling as much as mine.
Prolonged exposure to elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide wrecked havoc with our bodies and our minds. Trying to complete a thought was like wading through an ocean of molasses. I felt like I had been driven over by a Greyhound Bus.
From what I understood about CO2 toxicity, which was almost nothing, it would take Alice and me at least twenty-four hours for our systems to restore a healthy oxygen balance as we purged the excess carbon dioxide from our bodies.
With each breath we took, our breathing became a little bit easier. Trying to stand up was a different story. I made it to my knees twice before wobbling and falling over. Alice didn't fare much better; she swayed sideways and toppled over like a tree in a hurricane when she tried to rise to her feet. We were a mess.
Finally, we got ourselves into sync and helped each other climb to our feet. Like two drunken sailors, we staggered off toward our tent with the beams of our flashlights leading the way. A fuzzy part of my brain was engaged in trying to do a basic risk assessment. The math was so simple my foggy brain could do the calculations:
Hypothermia + CO2 poisoning = Death
"My God, I'm freezing." Alice's teeth chattered in time with her shivering body. The sweat, which had drenched us while we were frantically digging ourselves out of the cavern became a swarm of leeches sucking the heat out of our bodies.
"We gotta lose these wet clothes before we freeze to death," My teeth chattered like an old-fashioned typewriter. I stuttered and stammered so much I had to repeat every word two or three times.
Inside our tent, I ignored the chill as I raced to disrobe. My tee shirt was drenched. I stripped it off and used it as a towel to dry myself off. I knelt naked next to Alice, removed her clothing, and toweled her shivering body off the best I could. I glanced at my watch; it was a few minutes after nine o'clock in the morning.
Without another word between us we slipped into the frigid sleeping bag and held each other as tightly as we could. For all the warmth we were generating, we might as well have been two ice cubes at the bottom of a martini glass.
Our hands caressed each other's bodies and bare bottoms as we used friction to warm the surface of our skin. After several minutes our shivering abated as we exchanged body heat.
Alice's body relaxed as her tension evaporated. We held each other in our arms as a deep, restful calm surrounded us in the warm and comforting cocoon of slumber. I smiled.
Butterflies do dream when they sleep.
Morpheus, the God of dreams, wrapped us in a cocoon of dreams. But when he did, he forgot to include a bathroom. I awoke with a four-alarm "urgent need to go" moment as my bladder trembled in an effort to hold back a flood of Biblical proportions. It would be wonderful to wake up nice and slow like I used to do in my younger days. I used to enjoy the delightful transition from slumber to wakefulness. No such luck. Personal plumbing issues are now at the top of my morning's To-Do List.
I groaned as I rolled away from Alice and felt around under the heap of clothes I used as a makeshift pillow. I breathed a sigh of relief when my fingers found my flashlight. My sigh turned into a groan when I saw that each LED bulb glowed no brighter than a dying firefly.
Damn it! I forgot to turn it off before I fell asleep. In an instinctive reaction, I shook the flashlight as if that would be enough to wake up a few extra sleeping electrons. I examined my light for the traitor it had become. The Chinese manufactured flashlight carried a guaranteed battery life of twenty-five hours. No way the charge should exhaust itself after a few hours of sleep. Friggin' imports. My little light was almost useless. A dozen lightning bugs would’ve shed more light.
Hauling myself out of the sleeping bag turned out to be a real chore. My stiff muscles protested every move I made and my back was killing me. Payback for not having an air mattress. The atmosphere in the tent was rather brisk, a polite way of saying, "too damn cold."
First things first, I crawled naked past our saucepan, a.k.a: a chamber pot. Screw it! I didn't want to bother cleaning our makeshift toilet, besides we would later need to melt snow to replace our drink water. At the door to our tent, I climbed to my knees. An upset bride once asked a famous advice columnist, "My husband insists on urinating in our backyard. Why does he do that?"
Her answer became the stuff of legend, "Because he can."
I shuffled forward and, plumbing in hand, sprayed the dry, dusty ground of our cave with a monsoon of yellow rain, the first moisture in more than a hundred years.
Lighting a cigarette and holding my prick in my right hand, I glanced at my wristwatch. The time glowed a few minutes after 11:30 in the morning. Huh?
We slept for less than three hours? Then I noticed tomorrow's date in the tiny square on the dial's surface. Holy shit! We’d slept around the clock and then some. While I got busy irrigating the powder dry soil, goose bumps were busy marching in lockstep across my naked body.
Once upon a time, those little bumps at the base of our body hairs served an evolutionary purpose. They helped us fluff up our fur to better insulate us from the cold. When we were threatened, the same fluffing mechanism raised our body hair and turned our ancestors into instant Chia pets, making us appear a bit larger to potential adversaries or hungry predators. That was then, and this is now.
In the eons since, we've lost most of our fur and the bumps no longer keep us warm and fluffy. Instead, the zillions of goose pimples give our skin the appearance of used sandpaper. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?
Shaking the last drops off the end of my prick, I collected my thoughts.
At least I had one thing going for me; things could only improve. There is no place to go except up when you start your day naked and freezing your ass off while pissing in a pitch-black rattlesnake den. Right?
After taking one last drag from my cigarette, I used my thumb and forefinger to flip the butt away from me. Like a spent tracer round, the red streak sailed off into blackness before bursting into a shower of sparks as it bounced off the low ceiling of the cavern. Nice, a mini-fireworks display.
"Dennis, I can't believe you're so careless! How could you forget to turn off your light?" Alice stuffed her shirt into the waistband of her pants and glowered in my direction.
"I'm sorry. It's not like I left the damn thing on to piss you off. It was an accident." I finished lacing up my boots.
"Well, it was a stupid thing to do. Now we're down to one flashlight and one lantern," Alice brushed loose strands of hair out of her eyes.
Resisting the temptation to respond with a snappy comeback, I only muttered under my breath, "Thank you, Captain Obvious."
"What did you say?"
"I said we need to get something to eat. We're hungry and cranky." I picked up two military-style MREs.
"We have two choices. Chicken Pesto Pasta or Beef Ravioli. What's your pleasure?"
"Does one of them contain flashlight batteries?" Alice examined the MREs. "How about this one? Maybe it's a misprint. I'm sure they meant to say, Chicken Pesto and Battery Pasta." she said as she shook the MRE.
I clenched my jaw and did a slow count to ten. "Alice, you've already plowed this field. Give it a rest." I zipped up my jacket and picked up the Rayovac lantern along with our survival saw as I crawled toward the tent opening.
"God damn it! Don't you walk out on me when I'm talking to you," Alice scolded.
I stopped and turned back to face her. "First of all, I'm not walking, I'm crawling. Secondly, you're not talking to me. You are cranking, and right now you sound like an old, ah, err, oh never mind." Better my words remain unspoken then to spend the rest of my life apologizing.
"If we get stuck in the fucking dark, it will be your fault," Alice growled.
I took a long deep breath and did another slow ten-count. "You can vent anytime you want, and I will listen. Once. But, I draw the line at recycling. Like I said, you've already plowed this field. What's the point of doing it again?" I searched Alice's eyes for any sign she understood what I was saying.
"Dennis, you don't understand. I hate being in the dark. Because of your carelessness, we're down to a single flashlight and one lantern. That's not much of a safety margin." Alice crossed her arms, shook her head side to side, and frowned.
"Alice, mistakes happen. When they do, we need to build a bridge and get over 'em. Look around you; there's nobody keeping score. You and I are the only living creatures within earshot. The snakes? They're as deaf as doornails. They're not listening, and they don't care." I gave Alice a hug and kissed her cheek.
"I'm frightened." Alice's frown melted as her lower lip started to tremble as tears appeared at the corners of her eyes.
"So am I. So, too, am I. Trust me, we'll get out of this together. I don't know how, but we will survive," I said with more optimism than conviction as I gave her another hug.
Nature has a superb sense of timing. As our embrace ended, a faint glimmer of slowly brightening light radiated from the entrance to our cave.
Something was happening.
Alice and I hurried toward the source of illumination like moths to a flame. A glimmering halo of white light surrounded the hole Alice cut through the snow drift at the tunnel's entrance. I crawled into the air shaft that she’d excavated and punched through a thin cap of frost at the end and was instantly dazzled by blinding sunshine.
"Come here and take a look, Alice, you aren't going to believe this," I shouted over my shoulder as I emerged into the open air. The blizzard had passed us by, and the heavy overcast it left in its wake was riddled with expanding patches of brilliant blue sky. The sun had broken through the clouds at the center of the largest patch of sky and blazed in magnificent glory.
Alice emerged from the tunnel and took her place next to me. We stood together, speechless and in awe, with our arms around each other.
The land itself lay before us, transformed by the blizzard into a visual wonderland of strange beauty. The storm swept all the colors of the world away, and only vivid blues, dazzling whites, and a thousand shades of gray remained. The thin, clear air distorted distance judgment in such a way that far away mountain ranges appeared close enough to reach out and touch. Snow capped summits all along the western horizon blazed white with reflected sunlight against a sky so blue that the color bordered on black.
"Have you ever seen anything so beautiful, Dennis?" Alice gave me an extra hug and rested her head on my shoulder.
"Not in this lifetime." I kissed the top of her head and returned her hug. "Where did we park Mr. Kawasaki?" I searched the blanket of snow before us for any sign of our ATV. It was nowhere to be seen.
"I think our Mule is under the drift." Alice pointed to a low mound of snow about 10 yards to our right.
The chest-high snow made forward motion almost impossible without an extraordinary amount of effort. Any thought of walking back to Liberty Base vanished before I had gone five yards. Our buried ATV wasn't going anywhere until next spring, and there was no way we would be able to hike the fifteen miles back to base through this snow cover.
"Do you know how to make snowshoes, Alice?"
"No, but the Spanish SAS Survival Manual has a section on how to make them," Alice said.
"Can you read Spanish?"
"Nope, but we can copy the illustrations in the manual. We'll need to get branches from a pine tree." Alice ducked back into the passageway and emerged with our survival saw a few minutes later.
We set off together to explore the nearest stand of evergreens about a quarter mile to our left. The human body is a remarkable machine, but it's a lousy snowplow.
I was utterly exhausted by the time we reached the tree stand. I had never been athletic as a youth, and my physical stamina hadn't improved with age. Alice, on the other hand, looked like she was ready to do a twenty mile hike. I grimaced; nobody should be so fucking perky after slogging through waist deep snow.
We cut or collected enough pine branches, garlands, and barrows to decorate the Sistine Chapel after about thirty minutes of labor. We knitted the load together using paracord and dragged our evergreen sled across the snowy valley instead of carrying the load of greenery back to our shelter. We spent a few minutes scooping out a semi-sheltered work area; a depression surrounded by piles of snow to block most of the wind upon arrival.
We had plenty of green pine fuel. We got our hobo stove started and burning in short order and melted snow for drinking water. Our all-purpose chamber pot came in handy, and the steam was an excellent hand warmer.
Alice's attempt to build a replica of the snowshoes pictured in the Spanish survival manual was a perfect copy of the illustration.
"Viola!" she triumphantly held her completed set of Spanish snowshoes aloft for me to view and admire.
"It was too easy," she laughed as her smile shifted from grin to gloat.
"Nice," I mumbled, too embarrassed to speak. I knew in my gut that I was never going to hear the end of this one. I had become a legend at the age of five as the only kid in my home town to ever flunk kindergarten Arts and Crafts.
Alice decided to strut her stuff for the hell of it and started tromping across the top of the snow in her snowshoes. Pride goeth before fall. Her footwear fell apart no more than five steps into her victory march. She practically vanished from view as she sank to her neck in powdery snow. The devil lives in the details in the snowshoe business.
We played woodland cobbler and tried to make a working pair of snowshoes for the next several hours. Alice's creations were things of beauty. Although my efforts were less than stylish, they had one thing in common with my partner's design. Neither one of them worked worth a damn.
The one thing we didn't count on in our fight against frostbite and hypothermia was getting sunburned. A UV barbecue is exactly what we got. Our faces looked like supermarket tomatoes; i.e., red, juicy, and overpriced after four hours in the bright sunshine in the thin mountain air.
"The cupboard is bare, and we've officially run out of food." Alice licked her fingers and stared forlornly at the empty MRE packages at our feet.
"Correction; we've run out of prepared food. We still have a pantry full of legless protein awaiting our culinary expertise." I waved my arm at the sleeping snakes in the darkness beyond our tent.
"Yuck! Do you even know how to cook rattlesnake?" Alice's body shivered in disgust.
"Easy as pie. Cut strips of meat, grill 'em, and they're done when they start to burn," I grinned as I fished around, trying to find our weed stash.
"Time for dessert. Our sunburns are as good excuse as any to explore the medicinal benefits of Liberty Mountain's legally homegrown marijuana."
I lit my glass pipe, took a toke, and passed it to Alice. Wow. We were smoking weed with attitude. We were as stoned as the faces carved on Mount Rushmore after three or four hits from our pipe.
We undressed for bed as our cannabis high wrapped us in a calm and relaxing fog. Alice stripped down to her birthday suit and climbed into the sleeping bag. I shed all my clothing except for my jockey shorts and T-shirt and quickly joined her under the covers.
We snuggled together like two spoons in the kitchen drawer. While I was content to drift off to sleep, Alice had other ideas. She caressed the side of my face with her fingers and slid her hand down my chest in a southward journey.
Alice gave a contented sigh and snuggled closer to me. She nuzzled her head on my chest. She ever so carefully slid her hand under the waistband of my shorts and explored the contours of my growing erection.
"Does this guy have a name?" Alice tenderly squeezed my penis and held it between her thumb and forefinger as she began to gently stroke it.
Damn! Some treacherous male had revealed one of manhood's most closely guarded secrets in a moment of weakness; we gave pet names to our junk. My appendage answered to the name of Harvey (as in Harvey the Hardon).
"Let's see if Harvey wants to come out and play." Alice used both hands to slide my shorts down to my knees.
Freed from his fabric prison, Harvey joyfully sprang into the air, nearly poking Alice in the face. Turning her head to face me, Alice leaned into me and kissed the end of my nose.
"Do you like this?" she stared into my eyes as her fingers stroked my shaft. Her gaze was as intense as the sensation of her fingers playing with the head of my dick. Turn out lights.
"Oh, God, yes!" I let out a low groan as my hips moved in time with her touch.
I closed my eyes in pleasure. Alice wrapped her lips around the head of my prick before I could open them again. My body jolted in surprise and joy when she explored my pee-hole with the tip of her tongue.
She wrapped her lips around the base of my penis with a long, slow slurp, and slowly lifted her head and let my cock slide out of her mouth. Her tongue did a butterfly dance as it did.
Alice rose to her knees as I writhed in pleasure, and straddled my body before scooting forward. She lowered herself over my mouth when she had positioned my face was between her legs and pressed the wet lips of her pussy against mine.
I let out a muffled “Oomph,” only to hear Alice giggling, "Don't talk with your mouth full. Pick a number between sixty-eight and seventy," she said as she turned around, settled her pussy against my lips, and leaned forward to take my cock into her mouth.
She was so wet that I could hardly breathe. I licked all her juices up in self-defense as I tried to catch my breath. I would be damned if I was going to be the poor guy who drowned while making love in the mountains.
Guided only by our sense of touch, taste, and hearing, Alice and I explored each other's naked bodies in a world of total darkness. Like sailors on a sunless sea, we drifted on the tides of pleasure and followed the currents of passion. Occasionally, as we shifted and moved under the covers, sparks of static electricity twinkled like fireflies in the night.
The space around us became a timeless point of joy as we nestled together like two pieces of a puzzle, a perfect fit. As my tongue explored the entrance of her vagina, Alice's mouth and lips surrounded the head of my cock with wonderful wet butterfly kisses. Sensations of ecstasy flowed through me like a rising tide and, as impossible as it seemed, the darkness around me appeared to shimmer with sensual shades of color as our bodies merged into one. We were yin and yang.
A glittering circle of intense pleasure began to glow at the center of my being. Alive with delicious pressure, every nerve in my body converged at the base of my expanding pillar. Waves of tension and joy flowed inward as the pillar became a tower of rising desire. The tingling sensation in my toes merged with the pricking in my groin. I began to fly toward the point of no return.
Damn it, I'm losing control. It's happening too fast. I'm cumming too soon! I rolled away from Alice to the sloppy wet sound of my prick popping out of her mouth.
"Come back here, I'm not done!" She shifted her body to follow as I squirmed away.
"Just a second ? wow ? I gotta cool down, I'm about to cum too early." I was tottering on the point of no return. I gritted my teeth and willed myself to back away from the brink. Premature ejaculation is a real buzz kill.
As I started to regain control, Alice's searching hand found my shaft in the darkness. The tender touch of her delicate fingers smearing pre-cum across the top of my penis pushed me over the edge. My body and hips jerked as I squirted all over her hand and arm.
"Oh, fuck!" What a waste of an orgasm.
Nobody wants to sleep in the wet spot. I dribble like a leaky faucet as I searched the blackness for our flashlight. I clicked on the power. Out of habit, I glanced at the array of light emitting diodes to determine the remaining strength of the battery. Bad move. After prolonged darkness, my eyes were at maximum sensitivity. The dazzling brightness is painful in its intensity. Alice vanished behind a blizzard of blue dots drifting across my retina.
"Fucking stupid!" I scolded myself as I shook my head in a useless effort to get rid of the afterimages floating in my field of vision. "Sorry about that."
My T-shirt did double duty as a towel as I cleaned used sperm from Alice's hand and arm. Memo to self: survival kits should include a friggin' face cloth.
"That was interesting," said the Alice shaped blue dot.
The prolonged stillness in our fabric cave drifted from awkward to uncomfortable as we each waited for the other to speak. Silence and rubber bands share at least one thing in common. If you stretch them far enough, they'll snap. In our case, the break came when Alice's stomach rumbled in hunger. A few moments later, my gut responded in kind.
"I'm famished. What's for dinner?" Alice wanted to know.
"We've got bouillon cubes and tea bags. What's your pleasure?" I inquired.
"I want something to munch, not something to drink. Any energy bars left?" the blue dot asked.
"Nope. Yesterday we had the last crumbs for dessert. It's about time we take a trip to the python pantry and go shopping for serpents." I gathered my clothes and began to dress.
"I don't think I could ever eat a rattlesnake," Alice said with a shiver and a disgusted frown.
"Unless yah can survive on breezy sandwiches, I don't think we've got a choice." I took a bite out of the air in front of my hands and chewed with gusto. "Umm, light and fluffy, just the way I like it," I winked.
We were both hungry as hell. I had skipped meals from time to time without fear. I always knew there would be a meal waiting for me on the other side of the clock. This time, there would be nothing in our cupboard unless we stocked it ourselves. Starving to death is a miserable way to die
"I don't care. I still don't think I could eat a rattlesnake," Alice shook her head as goose bumps covered her chest.
Tragic stories of lost travelers who starved while surrounded by nourishment litter the pages of history. The truth is, our bodies are not terribly fussy when it comes to dinner. As long as it isn't poisonous or toxic, our digestive systems can extract protein or vital nutrients from almost any organic matter. There is never enough food if we don't consider everything on the table.
"Get up and lend a hand; you don't gotta eat 'em, but you have to help."
We quickly got dressed. Alice held the Rayovac lantern aloft and played streetlight while I made our selection from nature's deli counter. A fat slumbering rattler with a body the size of my arm and about as long as I am tall became the catch of the day.
"Want to do the honors?" I offered her my hunting knife, which she promptly refused.
"I hate snakes. You take care of it." Alice took a step backward.
I was pissed and perplexed. My partner, the wild mountain woman, had no problem slaughtering Bambi but went AWOL when it came to putting food on the table to keep us alive in our Godforsaken cave. Go figure.
Except sucking on my mother's tit while a baby, everything I ate in my life came from the supermarket in jars, cans, boxes, and little Styrofoam platters wrapped in clear plastic film. I lived the sheltered life of a city dweller.
I placed the mess kit on the ground and with survival manual in one hand and my hunting knife in the other, I did a quick review and set about dispatching Rocky the Rattler. Even though the handbook was in Spanish, the illustrations spoke the universal language of the illiterate. A picture is worth a thousand words.
"Don't take this personally, buddy."
I stepped on the snake's head and drove the point of my knife through its spine. I gritted my teeth and stifled my gag reflex as I felt the crunch of the poor guy's bones. Aside from a few rodents in mousetraps, I had never killed anything larger than a fly. Having to kill to survive added an entirely new perspective to my place in the food chain. My grandmother used to remind me, "You are what you eat."
Rocky, before he went to meet his maker, had been sluggish and hardly moving. His body came alive in death as it wriggled and kept coiling as if to strike. Oh, shit! Dinner just went zombie. Yuck!
Husking the poor guy like an ear of corn didn't seem to slow him down as Rocky continued to coil and spasm like a runaway kielbasa. After stripping off the skin, cutting open the belly, removing its entrails, and washing him in ice water, I fought against the temptation to gag. The damn thing is still moving.
"What part of being dead do you not understand?" I muttered under my breath as I cut him into chunks about five inches long. The slicing did the trick. Rocky finally gave up the ghost and stopped pretending to be alive. Thank God.
Rockies' makeover was complete. The slices of serpent looked more like mutated catfish than a snake. The less snake-like dinner appeared, the more interested Alice became. Gradually her expression of disgust melted into a look of cautious curiosity.
"Follow me to the kitchen," I said over my shoulder as I made a beeline for our tent to grab our cooking supplies on the way to the entrance of the cave. She held the light as I dug through the pile of odds and ends in our stash of survival gear.
Whoever thought of adding a three-ounce bottle of Japanese sesame seed oil to our meager horde is a genius. Anything fried with the Oriental oil had the distinctive nutty zesty zing of toasted sesame seeds.
I scooped up four or five beef bouillon cubes, several sugar packs and a few tea bags and stuffed the lot, along with the flask, into the compact hobo stove. I tossed everything into our saucepan, a.k.a. chamber pot, and set out for the cave's entrance.
After our close call with asphyxiation, I became paranoid as shit when it came to the use of flame within our rocky cavern. Tonight's dinner would be cooked in the open air. If we don't learn from our mistakes, we will be doomed to die by repeating them. Nature doesn't grade on the curve. Her courses are all pass/fail.
The unreadable index pages of the Spanish manual made excellent tinder, and soon the little stove blazed away. I balanced the saucepan atop the Hobo stove and sprinkled several drops of oil on the cooking surface and added a slice of snake. Since I had never eaten fried rattlesnake, this would be an interesting test of my culinary skills.
The aroma of the sizzling snake and toasted sesame seeds resonated with my hunger as my stomach let out a low rumble of appreciation.
Using my knife as a spatula, I kept the fillet of Rocky moving so that it would not burn. I had no idea of how long to cook the meat. Undercooked would not be acceptable. I wasn't ready to try serpent sushi, so I added a handful of snow to the saucepan and closed the lid and let it steam for several minutes. I stalled as I worked up the nerve to try a taste test.
Hunger and curiosity got the best of me, and I opened the cover. The cloud of steam smelled like food. I cut a thumbnail piece from the end and took a nibble of an interesting blend of bland, chewy chicken flavored meat seasoned with sesame. Not great but also not too bad. Needs salt. I added half a bouillon cube for flavoring and let it simmer for another fifteen minutes.
In no danger of ending up on a menu of a five-star restaurant, my creation tasted palatable enough to qualify as food in a half-star eatery.
"Care for a taste?" I offered Alice a portion of our survival cuisine.
"I told you, I hate snakes." She shook her head and made a face.
"It's going to come down to a question of hate. Which do you hate more? Snake stew or starvation?" I extended a slice of steaming snake to Alice. "If it helps, think of it as a type of evolutionary revenge," I laughed and handed her a hot slice. "Watch out for bones," I warned as Alice took a tentative nibble.
"It tastes like chicken," she said between mouthfuls.
Everything tastes like chicken, but no one ever says chicken tastes like snake. All of which leads to an interesting question. If tuna is chicken of the sea, why isn't chicken called tuna of the land? Apparently, the comparison only works in one direction.
I experimented with different ingredients and cooking styles as I prepared a few other slices of Rocky the Rattler. One concoction turned out to be worthy of one and a half stars. I used a handful of vitamin C rich pine needles, bouillon, and a sugar packet with sesame seed oil to create a sweet and sour sauce. While not exactly gourmet dining, it tasted good enough that we each wanted a second serving.
Snake stew or starvation? Alex, I'll take snake stew for two hundred! We had just won this round of Jeopardy.
While our dinner is not worthy of a five-star restaurant, the view around us was six-star spectacular. The night was moonless, and the velvet black sky above our heads blazed with countless stars. The Milky Way rose and arched across the heavens in a misty river of light along the eastern horizon. The snowshoe workshop did triple duty as kitchen, dining area, and lounge. We spent as many hours outdoors together as we can stand.
Spooning naked in the blackness is sexy, erotic, and boring. Even newlyweds need to hop out of bed and walk around, if only for a change of view. With dinner finished, Alice and I snuggled in the stove's glow as much from affection as out of a desire to keep warm.
The sense of satisfaction and the mellow comfort of fullness remained long after our mouths lost the taste memory of our meal.
"Did you have enough to eat?" I burped, patted my midsection, and smiled. My belly was at maximum density.
"Not another bite, I'm stuffed." She shifted closer, restings her head on my shoulder, the bill of her cap obscuring her face.
"Care for some tea and an after-dinner joint?" My stash of Liberty Mountain weed was enough to give a decent buzz to two bored and stranded hunters. As they used to say while I was in basic training, “Smoke 'em if you got 'em.”
Relaxing a few feet from our hobo stove was delightful. The radiant warmth was almost enough to offset the chill of the below-freezing air. Thank God, it's a windless night.
Cabin fever and frostbite are both threats to survival. Our hunting gear was top of the line but not intended for Arctic conditions. The only way to stay warm was to keep moving. We lost more heat than we generated while sitting together on the frosty couch carved into the sides of the snow drift. A pile of pine branches was both padding and insulation for the icy sofa.
I gazed into the smoldering embers of our little stove as Alice and I huddled next to each other. I was sure that survival was possible for the first time since our adventure started. My concern now was the quality of life while we survive.
We're stuck in this Godforsaken cave until either the spring thaw arrives, we're rescued, or hike back to base. Four months of co-solitary confinement will challenge the sanity of the most devoted lovers. Trapped with Alice for a third of a year? I shuddered at the thought.
Foolish boy. I scolded myself for being so self-centered. She had to be as concerned as I was; she was also stuck with me for the duration, after all.
We were in for a hell of a ride. Our sheltering cave was sure to become an emotional pressure-cooker before it was all over. Like it or not, we were going to be stewing in each other's juices. We would either curdle or bond.
"Whatcha thinking?" Alice looked at me and snuggled closer for warmth.
"Nothing much. Just wondering how long it will be before we can't stand snake. We have enough God damned reptiles back there to feed us this winter and half of the next." I pointed to the cave behind us.
"Yuck! Just shoot me now," Alice stuck her finger in her mouth and pretended to gag. "We gotta have a variety, or our taste buds will die of boredom," she sighed.
"No shit. How many flavors of pine needles can there be?" I shifted and held her tighter.
"We know there's a herd of deer in this valley. I can set up a hunting blind in the evergreen stand. Maybe I can bag us a Bambi with a clear field of view," Alice volunteered.
I cringed a bit at her suggestion. Alice's enthusiasm for Bambi-burgers was what got us into this predicament. It was pointless to bring it up since there was nothing we could do about it and no one was keeping score.
"Let's talk about it in the morning after a full night's sleep; we need to pick up and go to bed." I kissed her cheek and rubbed her neck with my hand.
Alice cleaned the pan and our mess kits while I wrapped Rocky's remains in a plastic shopping bag and buried it deep in the hole I'd dug in the snowdrift. Food storage wasn't a problem. We lived in a walk-in freezer.
"We're not going to bed without a bath. You stink, I stink, we all stink," Alice said as she scratched under her boob. Scratching, like yawning, is contagious. I chased a sympathetic itch crawling across my belly.
She was busy melting snow for our bath water while I set about gathering bundles of pine branches for an additional layer of insulation under our sleeping bags. I completed several trips to deliver natural bedding to our tent by the time the pot was steaming away.
The air inside our shelter was chilly, but also noticeably warmer than the frigid night outside. The residual heat coming from the rock faces of the abandoned mine kept ambient temperatures slightly above freezing; not exactly comfy for a nude sponge bath.
"We gotta problem. We don't have anything to wash with, not even a face cloth," I scratched my head and tried to think.
"That sucks!" she wrinkled her nose at me as she fired up our Rayovac lantern.
"Great idea! Wish I had thought of it." I hug Alice, knelt, took off my boots and removed my socks.
"What the hell are you doing?" she asked with a puzzled laugh.
"You said socks. I'll use my wool socks as a sponge." I kissed her in appreciation for her cleverness.
"I said it SUCKS, my hard-of-hearing lover," she chuckled, shook her head and kissed my lips with the tip of her tongue.
Creative listening sometimes is an advantage. I hate conversations which become fill-in-the-blank dialogues of frustration.
"We'll smoke after our bath." I set my weed and matches to one side and undressed.
Alice followed my example, and we found ourselves in a race to see who could be naked first. The contest ended as we laughed and kissed in a dead heat at the finish line. A quick game of rock-paper-scissors broke the tie and granted her the honor of first place.
"What will we use for soap?" I asked as I soaked my socks in the steaming water.
"Don't sweat it. Clean is better than dirty." Alice lay on her stomach and motioned for me to start her bath.
Wet sock in hand, I straddled her naked behind and leaned forward to smooch the back of her neck.
"Don't even think about it. Frostbite and foreplay don't go together." Alice twisted around and placed her finger over my lips in a gentle shushing fashion.
I kissed her fingers and winked; message received. She smiled back, rested her head on her forearms, and spread her legs. Bath time. Alice's back was no problem. Smooth, sensual; I cleaned her skin. Naked rounded fanny cheeks? Problem. Slick, sexy, and sinful, I caressed her ass as I washed.
I didn't understand why I was so attracted to Alice. I hardly knew her. We'd been in each other's lives for less than a week. She was on my mind twenty-four seven. I felt the heat of the pressure cooker.
I curiously seemed to be getting a crush on Alice, but that was impossible. Crushes were for kids with pimples who have to be home by midnight. I was an old fart. I didn't do crushes. Then again, who the fuck knows?
I spent a few extra seconds fingering her asshole. Alice giggled as I continued bathing her. If I could get my bunkmate excited and clean at the same time, why not? Efficiency can be pleasant as well as effective.
She turned over on her back as I finished wiping her toes, and smiled. "Be quick; I'm cold."
Working to keep my lust at bay, I sensually scrubbed her neck and chest and refilled my sock with warm water every thirty seconds or so. Alice was responding to my touch; her body blushed with excitement.
I took my turn on my stomach as Alice gave me a sponge bath. Shit! She had the bedside manner of a Zamboni driver; all business. She traded sensuality for speed, dumped half the remaining tepid water across my back, ass, and legs, and wiped me dry in thirty seconds. My other side got the same speed-cleaning treatment. We scrambled under the covers as fast as possible; too frigging cold to linger.
The interior of the sleeping bag was a few snowflakes above freezing. Alice and I clung to each other like refrigerator magnets, maximum skin-to-skin contact to share body heat. Alice's arm wrapped around my chest, and we hugged each other from both sides at once.
The embrace was strong, soothing, and sensual; a beautiful benefit of shared naked warmth. We let silence fall over us like a comfortable cloak as we enjoyed each other's touch. The bubble of quiet ends with the sound of a ripping fart loud enough to echo off the walls.
"Oh shit, oh dear! I'm so sorry," Alice giggled like a shy girl on her first date.
"Well, at least it doesn't stink," I say, before gasping to breathe as the stench of used snake fills the sleeping bag. Shit! That stink bomb could clear a room.
I let a gas bubble that I had been keeping under house arrest for the last half hour rip. Better now than later.
"Well, if you want to be like that," Alice squeaked out a baby fart.
I burst into laughter. What kind of idiots get into a flatulence contest at a time like this? I grunted and answered her challenge with a toot of my own. Game on!
"That fucking reeks! Put a cork in it!" Alice slid her finger in my ass.
"Careful, you're playing with fire." I laughed and kissed her on the mouth as I returned the favor.
We wrestle like two amateur proctologists. I wiggled my index finger in her butt-hole. Alice shrieked with laughter as she screamed and twisted to escape my invading digit.
Kissing while giggling and laughing is a fun but impossible challenge; too much multitasking.
Wrestling under the covers while playing a game of naked grab-ass kicked our biological heat engines into overdrive. The internal temperature of our sleeping bag was well beyond the comfort zone as our cozy sleeping space became a sauna without steam.
"I'm tired of anatomy by Braille, I wanna see what I'm doing." Alice threw the sleeping bag cover back and rose to her knees.
Her nude body glistened with perspiration in the lantern's harsh light. Alice's cheeks, neck, and breasts glowed blush-red with sexual arousal, and her voice resonated with the husky accent of desire.
"Let's see what you've got there, Partner."
I took Alice's extended hand as she helped me rise to my knees, and we become perfect mirror images of each other.
Alice gently circled her fingers around my shaft and slowly stroked me from the head of my prick to my balls. She was teasing me into a state of hypersexual arousal. The faster I wanted her to go, the slower she moved.
"Oh, you wanna play a slow game? I'll tease you so slowly that you'll think time is moving backward."
I slid my right hand between her legs and cup her neatly trimmed pussy in the palm of my hand.
Spreading my fingers as wide apart as I can, I use my thumb and little finger to tease her inner thighs as I slide my hand in and out her pussy. We gazed intently into each other's eyes as we teased each other's desire to higher levels.
The intensity of Alice's stare was penetrating, and I stared back at her with equal concentration as we waged a battle for sexual control. I slid my fingertips along the slippery, slick lips of her vagina. Her eyes widened and her pupils dilated as I teased the tip of her clit with my fingertip. She hissed out a long "yee-esssss" and gulped in a few breaths of fresh air. She had been holding her breath while my fingers explored near her clit.
Alice stopped stroking my cock and gripped my penis just under my circumcised mushroom cap instead. Her hand squeezed me like a tube of toothpaste as the tip of a finger from her free hand smeared a drop of emerging precum over the head of my cock. I shuddered and my knees trembled as waves of delight radiated outward from where she’d touched me.
Alice's intense gaze melts into a smile of victory. She knew she had me under control as she relaxed her grip on my shaft and slowly squeezed it again. She was going to bring me to the edge and keep me there as long as she could.
I moaned and fought to sustain eye contact as I parlayed her touch into an all-out assault on her clit. She was so wet and slippery that my fingers easily slide over her inner and outer pussy lips. I used a finger from my free hand to tease and softly caress the tip of her clitoris.
I relaxed. I also have her under my control. We have surrendered to each other. I touched my lips to her mouth and kissed her like a lover.
"Oh! My! God! Please stop. Enough!" Alice's hands pushed my face away from between her legs.
"Did you cum?" I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. Stupid question, but I wanted to hear what she has to say. There is always room for improvement.
"I lost count. I started to come again every time I came. I got to the mountaintop and kept on climbing." Alice brushed sweat from her eyebrows.
We were drenched in sweat like two marathon runners crossing the finish line. I lie down next to Alice, cuddled her close to my body, and caressed her face with my hand while my other hand cupped her breast and held her tight to me. Her words of satisfaction gave me a thrill. Egos love to be stroked.
"Beautiful afterglow," Alice muttered as she snuggled into me.
"Never better," I replied as I wrap my arms around her and give her a long, warm hug. A woman loves to be held after lovemaking is done. Truth be told, I love to be held, too.
Alice shifted her position, rested her chin on my chest, and stared at my face and into my eyes.
"Do you think fate is responsible for putting us in this place together?" Her eyes sparkled in the flashlight's beam; curiosity tinted with something like warmth.
I start looking around for an exit when someone starts talking about fate. I'm not superstitious, and I put no stock in fate. Like Shakespeare wrote, “The future lies not in our stars, but within ourselves.”
Something about her question moved my mind in a different direction. Something about that woman connected with me on many different levels since I first laid eyes on Alice at my show-and-tell naked introduction before the Society of Sisters, and I'm not talking about sexual feelings. Nudity is more scenic than erotic when everyone is undressed.
Relationships born of lust and desire are often so intense that they burn themselves into emotional ash within hours, days, or weeks. Affairs built on lust and desire are like that; there is nothing left for tomorrow once lust is satisfied and desire fulfilled. The tomorrows then stop happening.
I used an old trick a Rabbi taught me. Answer with a question of your own when hit with a question you aren't ready to discuss.
"Why do you ask? Do you think fate brought us together?" I brushed a strand of hair from Alice's eyes.
"It must be fate. Look at all the improbable things that had to happen for us to be as we are now: naked and alone in each other's arms with no one for miles around," Alice said as she rolled on her back, rested her head on my shoulder, made a fist, and ticked off her points on her fingers.
"First, you hook up with Darlene who's never been interested in older men," Alice pointed to her thumb. Second, you come here as the result of a fluke accident with autocorrect," she taps her little finger. Third, Darlene gets my hunting partner stinking drunk and creates a vacancy in the expedition," she taps another finger. “Next you volunteer, and Sheila allows you to ride shotgun," she taps her fourth finger. “And finally, an unexpected blizzard traps us here in this shelter," Alice paints a capital F in the air with her index finger.”
She smiles, leans forward, and kisses my lips. "Gotta be fate. What else could it be?"
Every instant of our lives is a moment of impossible connections if you look at it that way. My mother would have never met my father if she hadn't missed the bus one day. A different sperm cell would've fertilized the egg that became me if my dad sneezed as he ejaculated. Darlene would never have become an item if she had found a willing bed partner in the tavern that night. The list is endless.
“Our lives are the result of billions of random events. Change one ingredient in the recipe of life and we become something different. Some folks call it fate. I don't. It is what it is, and it's all the luck of the draw."
"What's your secret name?" Alice whispered in my ear. Her strange question was intriguing.
"What's a secret name? I'm not sure that I understand your question." I shifted position and looked into Alice's eyes as we spoke.
"A secret name is a name that we wish we had been born with." The tips of her fingers played with my mustache. "My secret name is Seraina; my grandmother used to call me Seraina. It means Bringer of Serenity or Peace."
"Sounds like you're talking about Spirit names, you know, the names our soul had before we were born. I don't know what mine is. I never bothered to go through the ritual," I sighed.
"A Native American tribal ritual?" Alice asked.
"No, nothing Native American about it. It was a hippy thing involving massive quantities of Peyote back in my crunchy granola days when I lived on a commune," I laughed. "I was assigned the radio call sign of Sky-Wolf when I was in the Army Reserve, D Troop, 5th Armored Cavalry. Sky because I was prior service, Air Force, and Wolf because my favorite band was Steppenwolf." I smiled at the memory.
"I like it. Sky-Wolf sounds much more exotic than Dennis does. I christen thee SkyWolf!" Alice splashed me with a few drops of sweat she’d wiped from her forehead.
"Thank you. I love it."
I was astonished at how touched I was by what I'm sure was a casual gesture. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and flicked several drops on Alice.
"By the power of the pack, I christen thee Seraina, Lady of Peace." I hugged my hunting partner and gave her a long, slow kiss. A newly born Seraina kissed me back moments later, her eyes as misty as my own.
Our perspiration naming ceremony that began as a joke evoked a powerful and primal truth. We christen babies, name the ships we sail the oceans upon, and the places we live because we want each to love us as much as we love them.
What's in a name? That's a philosopher's question, and I don't have the answer. Dennis was my birth name, and it’d served me well in my previous life. That life ended the day I’d arrived at Liberty Mountain.
Tomorrow belonged to SkyWolf.
"Good night, Seraina. We have a long day ahead of us if we're going to add Bambi burgers to our menu." I flicked the light off, and we snuggled together like two spoons in the kitchen drawer.
If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans...
When we looked outside the next morning snow was falling in near whiteout conditions. It kept snowing for the next three days. Who says fate doesn't have a sense of humor?
Rattlesnake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the culinary equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment. I had about had it with rattlesnake by the end of the third meal on the first day. I skipped the midday meal and picked at supper the second day. I hated snakes as much as Seraina did by the evening of the next day.
Mood affects perception. The blue funk of disappointment settling over us transformed our dark and cozy shelter into a dank and dismal prison. We slept like babies and fucked like rabbits to pass the time. We talked about our lives, food, and life at Liberty Mountain in between sleeping and screwing.
I fixed a batch of Lipton Tea flavored with pine needles and our last packet of sugar split between two mugs. The nicest thing I could say about my hot brew was that it didn't taste like rattlesnake.
The Society of Sisters was not as isolated as I’d assumed. Weather permitting, Sheila, the leader of the clan, scheduled trips to Denver to resupply and do some in-person banking every three or four months. Sisters were free to go ashore as often as they wanted.
"Is there ever a problem of a sister going AWOL?" I took a sip and studied Seraina's face for her reaction to my question.
"We're not prisoners here. Everyone is free to stay or leave as they like," she chuckled, then her eyes narrowed, and she tilted her head to one side, "Well, maybe not everyone," as she nodded her head toward me.
"Your unexpected arrival at Liberty has the society in a tizzy. Sheila will not send you away after granting sanctuary as a point of honor, even if it was offered in error." Seraina fidgeted and played with a braid of her hair.
"What's going to happen when we, or I, return to the mountain assuming that we get out of this alive?" I rubbed the back of my neck and fingered the beaded Vietnam Service necklace I wore.
Seraina shook her head as she warmed her hands on the hot mug of tea. "I don't know what Sheila will do. She's in a box when it comes to you."
I didn't like the image she was painting; one person's box could become another person's coffin. "What kinda box are we talking about?" I pressed Seraina for details.
"Sheila feels that she's stuck with you. She can't send you away without jeopardizing our location. You know too much. She can't keep you as a prisoner, that's not who we are, and she's not going to execute you. You haven't done anything to harm us." She took a sip and stared into the rising steam.
"How do the other women of the Colony feel about my presence?" I inquired.
"Sheila thinks that you are 'interesting,' and most of my sisters agree with her assessment." Seraina blew on her cup to cool it before taking another sip.
I wanted to know how Sheila's mind worked. I had to take a page out of the Dos Equis beer advertising campaign and become The Most Interesting Man in the World, not bloody likely if being exciting was keeping me alive. Despite several days' worth of unshaven stubble, I wasn’t a bearded, debonair gentleman like the seventy-eight-year-old actor Jonathan Goldsmith, whom legend says can speak Russian in French.
"So the women of the Society of Sisters are okay with me?" I licked my lips with cautious hope.
"Most of them don't seem to mind; you're a welcome diversion from daily routine, but a couple of the gals really hate men and told Sheila that they'll assassinate you if you remain at Liberty Mountain." Seraina took my hand in hers and held it tight, "Don't worry about it; probably just wild talk."
Crazy talk or not, I didn't like the idea of being on someone's hit list, even an imaginary list. “Forewarned is forearmed,” as my grandfather used to say.
Seraina's news did nothing to improve my disposition. Cabin fever and paranoia are real buzzkills. A change of scenery seemed to help whenever I’d get in a funk. I glanced around our shelter; the tent sides sagged in rumpled creases, stray pine needles littered the plastic floor, and the place looked like a dump.
"Screw it! Let's get some sleep and see if we can kill something with legs for dinner in the morning." I doused the light and rolled over and went to sleep. Maybe eight hours of slumber would reset my attitude.
"Wake up, honey."
Seraina gently shook me out of a pleasant dream involving vast quantities of double bacon cheeseburgers and coffee milkshakes.
I groaned. I was stiff, sore, and felt like a fleet of garbage trucks had used me as a parking lot. My mouth tasted like something had died in it. All my moving parts hurt; just another shitty day in paradise.
Bright morning sunshine and scattered clouds greeted us as we emerged from the abandoned gold mine. Eighteen inches of fresh powder covered the ground and blanketed the trees. Several black dots were traveling across the valley in the distance.
We were in luck; the deer herd was active and searching for food. Rifles in hand, we set out for the grove of evergreen trees and hopefully a rendezvous with dinner.
The trick to walking through drifts is to knock enough of the snow down with your hands, knees, and upper body so that you can lift your leg high enough to take a step forward. Every few steps of advancement required us to take turns breaking the trail.
We reached our goal after about an hour of slogging. I was drenched in sweat, utterly exhausted, and chilled to the bone. Our hunting gear was about as waterproof as a screen door and did nothing to stop snow from sneaking in around the edges of our clothing.
I set about hacking tree branches down.
"Building a fire in a hunting blind is not a good idea," Seraina said.
"True, but it's a better idea then freezing to death waiting for Bambi burgers to come into rifle range." My teeth chattered and I shivered as I laid down the base for the mother of all campfires.
A tiny bit of luck was on our side. The old evergreens had a plethora of dead, dry limbs for kindling. I stacked the dead stuff in a pile about three feet high and two yards across and covered the mound of kindling with two or three feet of evergreen sprigs.
"Don't ya think you've got a little too much wood there?" Seraina observed.
"There's no such thing as too much fire when you're freezing to death," I said as I flicked my Bic. We held our breaths as the little fire struggled against the wind for a few minutes before the dry wood finally caught.
The woodpile quickly became a blazing inferno as it roared to life. The radiant heat forced us to retreat as our clothing began to steam and smolder. There was a new crackling sound as we backed away from the flames. The lower branches of the overhead pine tree blazed like a Tiki torch. Oh, shit! Maybe there is such a thing as too much fire.
The heavy snow blanket covering the outermost branches of the canopy slowed but did not stop the fire's relentless progress. The needles covering the inner portion of the crown ignited and blazed as the windswept fire leaped from one tree to the next. Every tree in the entire grove was in flames within minutes.
"You're a fucking idiot!" Seraina shouted as we ran through a rain of burning embers and clumps of melting, falling snow to the safety of the open field. I offered no argument; she was right, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The thick pine smoke from the burning grove rose into the pristine mountain air for a few thousand feet before the wind smeared it across the sky in a nasty brown and black streak. The black dots of the deer herd we spotted earlier were gone. Elvis had left the building.
I had to give Seraina credit; she resisted the temptation to play Smokey-the-Bear to my accidental arson. "You're lucky nobody was around to video that stunt. You would be topping the charts in the virtual stupidity department," she laughed over her shoulder as she plowed through the snow with me trudging along in her wake.
The journey back to our depressing shelter was easier than our outward bound mission. We had broken a trail and simply followed the same path.
I called for a break at about the midway mark. My legs and back were killing me. Getting old sucked, but it sure beat the alternative. I lay down and groaned in relief. The snow was a much better mattress than the pile of pine branches under our sleeping bag.
I closed my eyes for a few moments and then reopened them and stared into the heavens. I could easily have taken a restful nap if hypothermia wasn't an option. I smiled at the thought. It was so peaceful. The valley was filled with a profound silence except for the annoying hum of a mosquito.
Mosquito? No fucking way. I sat upright and looked around for the source of the buzzing sound.
"Do you hear that?" I asked Seraina.
"What are you talking about? I don't hear - wait - yes! I hear something. What is it?" She joined me in a visual search for the odd noise.
"Look!" Seraina tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a tiny black dot high in the sky near the top of the ridge.
The silhouette of an industrial helicopter drone could clearly be seen as the black dot moved closer. Like dancers, we rose to our feet and did jumping jacks while we shouted and waved our arms to attract attention.
The calisthenics was unnecessary; the drone had already spotted us and was headed directly to our position. The craft's camera pointed straight down at us as the aerial machine hovered twenty feet over our heads within a few minutes. Something that looked like a black fishing line detached from a reel on the side of the drone and dropped toward us.
A set of earbuds with a built-in microphone dangled from the end of the wire. It was obvious that someone wanted to communicate with us. We huddled together as we each plugged one of the buds into our ears.
"This is Sheila. Are you guys ready to come home?"
"Oh, God, yes!" Seraina cried as tears streamed down her face.
My waterworks turned on as I joined my partner in a choir of thankful joy. We’d been rescued.
Our return to the cabin became a déjà vu moment and a mirror image of when I first arrived with Darlene about ten days ago. As our rescue vehicles approached, it appeared as though Sheila and the entire membership of the Society of Sisters waited on the cabin's balcony in freezing cold.
The upper deck erupted in shouts of joy and hand waves of welcome when Seraina dismounted from the snowmobile.
The boisterous display of affection slammed into a wall of silence as I climbed off the passenger seat. For the most part, the expressions on the faces of the assembled women were neutral displays of puzzlement and curiosity, as opposed to blatant hostility. A few of the ladies gave me tentative waves of greeting.
Sheila leaned forward, braced her gloved hands on the icy railing and studied Seraina for a moment before turning her attention to me. I now knew how a field mouse feels when looking up only to find a soaring hawk looking down.
"Welcome home. Thank God you're back. We've been searching for you for a week. Do either one of you require medical treatment?"
"No, we're okay. The only thing I need is mouthwash to get rid of the taste of rattlesnake," Alice shouted to the amusement of the crowd.
"Glad to be back!" I exclaimed as I greeted the gals with a joyful thumbs-up of my own. Sheila returned my gesture with a slight nod and wave of her hand, a half-smile on her lips.
"Wonderful, we'll start your debriefing session in sixty minutes. Use the time to shower and change into fresh clothes. Grab a bite to eat if you're hungry. See you in an hour." The Colony's leader turned on her heel and walked into the cabin.
WTF! We're being debriefed? That didn't sound family-friendly-fuzzy to me. In the military, a debriefing was a crap shoot a soldier faced when returning from an operation to face a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks. With perfect hindsight, they reviewed details of your operation and assessed individual performance and mission results.
When things went well, debriefings were a cakewalk; otherwise, the interrogation took on shades of the Spanish Inquisition as the powers above grilled you like a pork chop on the barbecue. As much as I hated the process, I also understood debriefings were unavoidable. Success and failures each teach important lessons, but only if we take the time to learn.
Our drivers took the upwind position as they escorted Seraina and me to the upstairs shower a few doors down from the room I shared with Darlene. I couldn't blame them. We smelled worse than a blacksmith's armpit.
"Dennis! Alice! Wait for us," Darlene called out as she ran forward with Alice's daughter at her side.
"Mom, Dennis, welcome home!" StarShine screamed as she double hugged her mother and me before wrinkling her nose and backing away.
"Christ! You smell like a wet dog." Darlene gave me a sloppy wet kiss of welcome as our small mob continued toward the shower.
"Perhaps he smells like a wet wolf," Seraina laughed with a wink.
"Yeah, an old soggy wolf with stinky fur." Darlene's nose wrinkled as she gave me an inquiring glance.
I shrugged and looked over at the ladies assembling along the second-floor balcony opposite our position. We had become persons of interest, and the sisters were curious to see what the cat dragged in.
Entering the relative privacy of the bathroom was a relief. After a week alone with Seraina, I found the throng of curious onlookers to be slightly overwhelming, or as Darlene would quip, “Too much people.”
"I'll race you to the showers," I said to Seraina while unbuckling my pants and kicking off my shoes. Whew! We stunk.
My grungy underwear likely qualified as hazardous waste. As I stripped, I checked out my reflection in the mirror over one of the restroom sinks. Crap! I looked like I’d fought a battle with a dirt monster and lost. My thinning hair was greasy and matted, a white T-shirt which had become a dingy shade of gray, and a week's worth of stubble did nothing to improve my appearance. I removed my socks, dropped my trousers and slid out of my jockey shorts before I added my shirt and T-shirt to the pile of dirty clothes at my feet.
"Should I wash them or burn 'em?" I pointed to the floor.
"Neither. We should bury them in the garden. We're always in need of fertilizer," the driver with rust-brown hair suggested with a laugh.
StarShine dashed across the room to the showers and turned on the entire bank and vanished behind clouds of billowing warm steam. A few moments later, a naked StarShine emerged from the fog.
"Come on in! The water's fine," Alice's daughter shouted with glee as she beckoned us to join her.
Our two rescue drivers exchanged glances, whispered a few words to each other, disrobed and entered the rising steam. A hot shower after a long freezing day riding snowmobiles was too tempting an offer to pass up.
Many hands make light work, and Seraina and I took turns scrubbing the grime off each other's bodies while Darlene and StarShine helped the best they could. I can't begin to describe the absolute pleasure of their soft hands and hot soapy water washing away enough dirt and grime to start a small garden.
Ahhh! To be warm and clean once again. Heaven is real. Bath time over, there was a minor problem with clean clothes. I would be damned if I was going to be naked while being debriefed by Sheila and the Society.
Darlene was a mind reader. She made a quick exit and returned a few minutes later with my razor, a pair of cargo pants and a lumberjack style red and black flannel shirt, along with a fresh change of socks and underwear. I smiled to myself when I noted she had thoughtfully included a pack of hand-rolled cigarettes, Bic lighter, and a toothbrush.
Seraina fared better than I had in the clothing department. A fresh change of clothing provided by StarShine sat ready and waiting.
I examined my clean-shaven face in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. My mouth and body felt clean for the first time in a week. Glancing at my wristwatch, I noted we still had twenty-five minutes to grab something to eat and drink before show time. With our drivers on each side of me, I followed Seraina, Darlene, and StarShine to the kitchen.
I used a slice of warm homemade bread to soak up the last of the venison stew from my third serving and pushed the empty bowl to the middle of the table.
"That was fucking fantastic. I had almost forgotten how wonderful real food tastes," I said wiping my mouth with a white linen napkin. With a silent prayer of thanksgiving, I lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. Life was good except for the parts that sucked.
"Smoke fast, we don't want to be late," the driver with rust-colored hair advised.
Sheila waited for us at the door of the media and entertainment center located in the back corner of the ground floor. Obviously, the society had spared no expense when they’d built the cabin and the indoor amphitheater. Arranged in a half circle around an elevated stage at the bottom of the well were four tiers of comfortable movie-theater-style seating. Several huge ultra-high definition flat screen televisions dominated the back wall.
Judging by the Society of Sister's logo displayed on the primary screen, one of the women in the Colony was an excellent artist and graphic designer. The pastel pink and red image of two nude women holding hands in front of a flower blossom rendered in the style of Georgia O'Keeffe floated in the center of the black screen. Lush maroon colored carpeting covered the floor, and indirect lighting fixtures on the walls and ceiling of the hall provided illumination.
The soft murmur of conversation from the two-dozen women in attendance descended into silence as Sheila led Alice and me down the aisle toward a white-oak conference table in the middle of the stage. Three leather bound executive office chairs faced the audience from behind the table. Microphones and nameplates sat in front of each seat. My assigned seating was to the left of Sheila's chair at the center.
The presence of two video cameras did nothing to calm our nerves. We exchanged nervous glances as we took our seats on the stage.
Sheila took her seat and centered her legal pad she on the table in front of her place. She studied the blank pad for a moment before placing two black gel pens on the right side of the tablet. She carefully positioned the pens to be perfectly parallel with each other and the pad of paper and repeated the process with two #2 yellow pencils on the other side of the pad before placing a hand-carved wood gavel on the notepad.
It was my guess Sheila was probably not a very lucky poker player; she had too many obvious tells and giveaways. When you can read a player's unconscious body language, it was like playing poker with the cards face up on the table. The need to precisely control personal space was indicative of someone toilet trained at gunpoint. It spoke volumes about Sheila's core personality traits.
As a leader, she wanted as much control as possible. Dictatorial and authoritarian leaders employed the law to govern their subjects. As a leader in a democratic environment, Sheila imposed her control at the personal level. Democratic authoritarians used their personality to achieve the same ends.
Control might explain Sheila's attempt to seduce me. Sexual union was her leverage point, and she had utilized it effectively to retain her position over the last fifteen years. She had, by her own admission, slept with every member of the Colony.
Interesting thought: maybe her seduction attempt was a result of her desire to keep me around under her rule rather than a result of my sparkling personality. I chuckled at the sudden insight and earned a sharp look from Sheila as she finished fussing with her pencils.
Sheila leaned forward and did what every nervous public speaker does; she tapped the microphone with her finger and asked, "Is this thing on?"
A loud pop! from the hall's sound system answered in the affirmative.
"Before we begin today's proceedings, I would like to express my gratitude to all who have helped in the search and rescue of Hunter-One and the successful return of Alice and Dennis." Sheila paused and looked around the auditorium. "I am especially appreciative of the skill and persistence of our drone pilots who never gave up, even when all hope seems lost. Thank you one and all for a job well done."
Introductory remarks concluded, sustained applause filled the hall. People always loved it when their leader bestowed accolades upon them.
After allowing the applause to run its course, Sheila rapped the gavel on the table. "By the authority of the Society of Sisters I hereby call this Board of Inquiry to order."
The stern rap of Sheila's opening gavel muted but did not extinguish the murmuring voices of dozens of private conversations.
The posture of the Colony's leader appeared poised and relaxed as she held the gavel in the ready position with her elbow bent at a forty-five degree angle for several long seconds as she waited for silence. Beneath Sheila's placid surface I spotted a ripple of anxiety as she unconsciously polished the gavel's wood handle with her thumb.
I've called enough meetings to order over my lifetime; the job of moderating a meeting was as thankless as it was important. Folks who don't know better think the chair is the ruler of the meeting. Not true. In a democratic assembly, the meeting members rule the gathering under the guidance of leadership and the organization's bylaws.
The meeting's power resided in its decisions and not in its deliberations. The chairperson's job is to help guide the gathering toward a consensus, or at least a majority vote to empower a course of action.
Over the next several seconds, all eyes turned toward Sheila as pools of conversation evaporated into silence and the assembly hall became as hushed as a sanctuary's congregation gathered in prayer.
I had to respect Sheila's skill as a parliamentarian. She relied far less on the weight of her gavel as she did on the authority of her personality to bring the meeting to order. At the moment of maximum silence, with a flourish she dropped the hammer and slammed the gavel down on the sounding block. The resounding crack of wood on wood echoed throughout the hall.
"This meeting of the Society of Sisters is now in session." Sheila looked around the room, smiled, cleared her throat and spoke the ritual words used to open every formal gathering of the sisters. "All those wishing to be heard, rise and be recognized so that we may better know your mind. The purpose of today's meeting is twofold." She paused and turned to face Alice.
"First, as a Board of Inquiry, we will examine the circumstances involving the loss and recovery of Hunter-One." Sheila pushed her chair back as she rose to her feet, leaned forward with her hands braced on the edge of the table,
"The second agenda item is more, err, delicate. Against our will, we have a man living with us. What are we going to do with him?” Sheila scanned the faces of the assembled sisters. This isn't a rhetorical question. We've got a problem, and he's sitting right there," Sheila turned and pointed her finger at me.
"What are we going to do about this man?" Sheila asked as the rising chatter of the sisters became a din of noise as the implications of her question became apparent. Great! She had just dumped the question of my future into the collective laps of the Sisterhood.
Sheila looked into my face, and we made eye contact. To compensate for my hearing loss, I had become fairly proficient at lip reading. I was certain she mouthed the words, "Don't you worry," as she looked at me. Either that or she had just whispered, "You're fucked."
"This tribunal will render its decision on Mr. Richard's future status after we have concluded the Board of Inquiry. As always, Rita's Rules of Order will govern the conduct of our meeting. We have a sacred covenant to respect each other and keep each other safe. We are our sister's keepers. Are there any questions before we proceed?"
I licked my dry lips as the circular muscles of my sphincter clamped shut while my testicles crawled into my body and my bladder shrunk two sizes. A "Oh shit!" feeling came over me, and I suddenly needed a bathroom break. My future had become the prize in a high stakes chess game with unknown pieces and uncertain rules.
I pushed my chair back, climbed to my feet, and faced Sheila and asked, "Excuse me. May I ask a question?"
My sudden movement took Sheila by surprise. She took a half-step backward. "Of course, what do you want to know?"
I glanced around at the roomful of fully dressed women and turned to Sheila, "Can I use the restroom before we get started?"
The rising tide of tension crested and broke as waves of laughter washed over the room.
"We'll take a short recess to allow Mr. Richards to attend to his needs. While I escort him to the toilet, we will stand in recess," Sheila declared as she tapped the gavel. "We'll reconvene in five minutes."
As Sheila led me out of the MultiMedia center, the woman with the rust red hair appeared at our side.
"Just a friendly escort," she laughed and raced to catch up with us. From the bulge on her hip, it was my guess our new friend was carrying a weapon.
Sheila glanced at our new companion and looked at me, a fleeting grimace crossed her face. I didn't want to read too much into a glance, but I had the feeling she didn't want company.
"Wait here and keep an eye on things," Sheila said to our chaperone as she led me to a restroom a few doors down the corridor.
"Be quick and listen," Sheila hissed as she pushed me through the doorway. "No time to talk. Stay calm, stay cool. Just be yourself. Everything will be fine. Trust me."
Sheila's "Trust me," remark did little to ease my growing sense of anxiety, and her suggestion to be myself made me laugh. I had long since given up trying to figure out who I was. Instead, I decided to be normal by ignoring nine out of the ten voices in my head.
"Need any help in there?" our escort asked as she stuck her head through the doorway and looked around.
"No. I'm good," I answered as I started to fiddle with the zipper on my pants.
The woman with rust red hair walked over to me. "I'll wait here, hustle it up," she said as she leaned against the frame of the open stall.
I turned my back to her, unzipped, and started to piss.
"Since we're getting to know each other, please tell me your name so I can call you something else besides, 'Hey You,'" I said over my shoulder.
"Sure, everyone calls me Rusty."
Rusty escorted Sheila and me back to the meeting room, and if she had followed me any closer, we could have shared the same underwear. I checked my watch and let out a low whistle of appreciation; the leader's sense of time was stopwatch perfect. She beat her five minute deadline with fifteen seconds to spare.
We took our seats at the table, and as Sheila reached for her gavel, one of the women from the kitchen crew hurried forward and, using her hand as a shield, whispered something in Sheila's ear. Sheila nodded a couple of times before saying, "Okay, good. Thank you," as banged down the gavel.
"Recess is over, and we are back in session, sort of. We'll pause for another five minutes for a coffee and beverage break so graciously provided by Marjorie with the help of StarShine and Darlene. Thank you, sisters."
Sheila stood and placed her hands on Alice's and my shoulders. "Both of you need to grab something. This is going to be a long haul."
We watched as she followed her own advice and joined a small group of sisters milling around the coffee cart parked by the room's entrance. I had to smile; she’d tried to wait her turn but wherever she stood became the front of the line. Rank has its privileges.
Serena's hand squeezed mine as we approached the gathering of thirsty sisters. I returned her grip with a squeeze of my own. She gave me a half-smile as I whispered, "Don't worry."
"Coffee, tea, or me?" Darlene said with a naughty wink and a giggle as she handed me a steaming cup of coffee prepared just the way I liked it. Cream with more sugar than seemed reasonable. What I didn't drink, I poured on my pancakes in the morning.
A couple of women waiting their turn watched our public display of affection with a look of annoyed curiosity. One of them pointed at us and whispered something to her partner, and they laughed as they walked away. I couldn't tell if they were laughing with us or at us. For all I knew, they could have been laughing at the price of sheep shit in Seattle.
"This is for you, Mom." StarShine gave Alice a kiss as she handed her a fresh cup of Java.
I also noticed StarShine and Darlene were striking up a considerable amount of conversation with their coffee customers. I knew Darlene well enough to appreciate her marketing skills. I had a hunch they were lobbying on our behalf with the apparent support or at least acquiesce of the Society's leader.
The coffee-wagon opening gambit must have been Darlene's brainchild. It was the oldest political trick in the book: give something free to the voters before they vote, and maybe they'll think well of you when they fill out the ballot. Folks are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them.
I felt a tugging at my sleeve and turned around.
"Time to get started everyone, coffee break is over," Sheila instructed as she guided us back to our seats.
As the three of us took our places, Sheila tapped her gavel, checked her notes, and leaned into the microphone. "We'll start the Hearing of Inquiry at the end and work our way back to the beginning. The images we are about to view will put the subsequent testimony into context." Sheila swiveled in her chair as the huge ultra high-definition television screen came to life with a vivid crystal clear view of a snow-covered mountain slope as the drone skimmed over the trees and followed the contours of the land.
Suddenly the forested slope gave way to a dizzying view of the valley below as the drone cleared the crest of the ridge. The images were clear and sharp enough they produced a stomach-dropping sense of vertigo as drone soared into the open air space above the snow-covered valley.
At the upper left corner of the frame, a smudge of dark smoke drifted across the blue sky. The drone's camera searched left for the source of the smoke and centered on an island of blazing evergreens in an ocean of white and two tiny figures trudging away from the inferno through the snow.
As the drone's camera pointed straight down, Alice and I stared straight up, whooping for joy, our mouths as wide open as baby sparrows awaiting a fresh worm. Our hungry-bird-faces filled the screen as Sheila reviewed her notes while she paused the video.
"Oomph!" I let out an involuntary snort of laughter; we looked fucking ridiculous. Alice tried to stifle giggles. The audience got the joke. Titters and chuckles filled the hall.
Sheila had a puzzled expression on her face as she looked up from her notes and glanced around for the source of sudden amusement. I pointed to the television screen over her head, and she turned, glanced up and burst into laughter.
"Sorry," she chuckled as she pointed her controller at the screen and advanced the video several seconds to a modestly more flattering and less humiliating image of Alice and me.
Like a school kid trying to get the teacher's attention I raised my hand and waved it to and fro.
"Yes, Mr. Richards, your question?" she nodded.
I had permission to speak. "Those pictures are amazing, err, no, not those," I said as I waved at the hungry sparrow image on the screen. "The other ones. We were what? Fifteen-miles out? I didn't think a drone had the necessary range for extended operation in the mountains."
"Normally they don't. Too much interference for FM line of sight communications and we don't want to rely on satellite communications. When the shit hits the fan, they'll be useless. They'll either get knocked out, or the government will shut 'em down. We solved the problem by running our drones in pairs. One does a ground level contour search while the twin ghosts along at high altitude and acts as a radio relay."
I let out a low whistle. The drone operation was much more sophisticated than it appeared at first glance. There was some serious brain power at work.
"Actually, it's fortunate we spotted you when we did. It was the last mission. We had no trace, no visual, radio, or thermal signature. You had vanished," Sheila said as she clicked the video to life.
A ground-level view taken by the rescue party replaced the aerial images from the drone as the rescue party's camera followed the snow-trail to the entrance of our mine shaft. The camera paid special attention to downed saplings and the resulting snow shield.
"Alice, quite ingenious. What made you think of it?" Sheila inquired.
"Not my idea. It was his," Alice nodded at me.
"Oh," Sheila said as she changed to a view of our makeshift tent and the heaps of sleeping rattlesnakes slumbering against the back wall of the cavern.
"All things considered, Hunter-One did an excellent job surviving the storm," Sheila said as the last images of our mineshaft survival camp played out on the huge screen.
"We've seen how this escapade ended. Now we need to know how it all began. What went wrong? What prevented your return to base?" Sheila put her hands on her hips and waited.
I shook off the sensation I was a kid about to give some lame-ass excuse to my mother for missing curfew. They always say discretion is the better part of valor. I sat in silence, leaned forward, wiped my palms on my thighs, and returned Sheila's gaze.
Group questions are a form of verbal volleyball. Not in a good position to answer, I let my partner do the honors.
"I knew there was a storm on the way, but I miscalculated its arrival." Alice passed to me.
"We decided to shelter in place and ride out the blizzard when we found the mine shaft." I bumped the question back to Alice.
"Thank goodness we got the revised weather advisory," Alice answered the volley.
"Then you also received the recall order I issued," the society's leader spiked the ball into the ground at Alice's feet.
Bad move. Never put new information in circulation until all the questions have been asked.
"So? You're responsible?" Sheila's expression hardened as she took a step forward and glowered at Alice.
Sheila's expression reminded me of the Death Star sequence from the movie Star Wars. She had acquired Alice as a target. The next shot would be lethal.
"Don't blame everything on Alice. I also got your message and said nothing. What's my responsibility for not following your directive," I reached over and gave Alice's hand a squeeze. We were in this together.
The Death Star held its fire as Sheila turned to the sisterhood and asked, "Does anyone have a question?"
"Alice! Did he force you to have sex?" a voice shouted from the rear of the hall. I scanned the hall for the owner. Nobody there.
"Yah! I heard he assaulted you and your daughter in the shower," shouted one of the women from the coffee-line, apparently in support of her partner's sex question
My pulse quickened as the hair on the nape of my neck and arms bristled. A nasty rumble of anger filled the hall. The incendiary question was a lighted match drooping into a pool of gasoline.
"Belinda, that's a fucking lie and you God damned well know it!" Alice screamed as she pounded the table with her fist.
"Nothing like that happened! Why are you telling lies?" StarShine pleaded as she rose to her feet, turned around, and faced Belinda.
"Order!" Sheila stood behind the table and slammed the gavel down with an echoing crash. "Enough! Do not to speak unless recognized. Is. That. Understood?" She virtually spit out the last three words, each a complete sentence accented by fury. Pausing to take a deep breath, Sheila continued as her tone softened. "Please direct all questions to the chair."
The leader surveyed the assembly as she made eye contact with every person in the hall. Satisfied her statement had been understood, she slowly lowered herself into her chair.
"Mr. Richards, would you care to respond to Belinda's charge?" Sheila faced me and nodded her permission to speak.
"I never force myself on anyone. I don't attend parties if I'm not invited." I folded my hands in front of me and took a deep breath as a bead of perspiration trickled down my back. I searched for the quiet center. Carry on and stay calm.
Darlene's arm shot into the air and waved as she jumped to her feet, and demanded to be recognized.
"Speak your mind," Sheila waved her hand in recognition.
"Thank you. I have two questions. The first is for Alice." Darlene hesitated and looked Alice in the eye. "Alice, through the Chair, you were naked and sleeping with him for a week. Did the two of you ever have sex?" Darlene waited for the answer, her hands clasped before her like a shy schoolgirl.
Darlene deliberately ed her body language to appear as a spontaneous display of innocence.
"Your answer?" Sheila turned to Alice.
Silence filled the hall as members leaned forward with interested voyeurism. Intimate details are always crowd pleasers.
"Yes. We had sex. The consent was mutual. We enjoyed each other's company," Alice touched the back of my hand.
"Thank you. I have one more question," Darlene stopped and waited for the chair's permission to proceed.
"And your question is?" Sheila gestured for her to continue.
"This question is for you, Sheila. I understand you shared your bed with Dennis. What happened?"
The leader's eyes widened in surprise and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
Darlene's blunt question put the hearing's officer into an impossible position. If I had been in her shoes, I'm not sure how I would proceed. You can't adjudicate a hearing while also presenting new evidence and testifying as a witness.
"Due to potential conflicts of interest, I respectfully decline to answer. Please direct any questions concerning that night to Mr. Richards," Sheila pointed toward me.
"Thank you. Dennis, err, Mr. Richards, did you spend the night in Sheila's bed? Please answer yes or no unless asked for elaboration," Alice instructed.
"Yes. We spent the night together," I cleared my throat as I fingered my wristwatch. Where was she going with this line of questioning?
"And both of you were naked?" Darlene pressed for details.
"Yes," I shifted and glanced around the hall.
"Did you try to seduce Sheila?"
"No," I said.
"Did Sheila try to seduce you?"
This was dangerous territory. I didn't want to throw Sheila under the bus, but at the same time, I didn't want to get caught in a lie. Silence wasn't an option.
"I'm not sure seduction is the right question. She invited me to her room, and I accepted," I decided to tell the carefully varnished truth, and I cautiously chose my words.
"Did you attempt intercourse with Ms. Carson?" Darlene's shift to proper surnames sounded like she had been watching too many Perry Mason reruns.
"Yes." The less said, the better.
"And?" Darlene pantomimed opening an imaginary door in the air, and with a half bow she waved her arm with a flourish and invited me to enter. Her tight lips held back a smile. The sparkling eyes of a predator told me she was up to something.
I took a sip of coffee, licked my lips and glanced at Sheila and Alice before turning to face Darlene and the Society of Sisters.
"I think Sheila was trying to consummate my arrival at Liberty Mountain. Sex is her way of getting to know and trust people." I could see heads nodding as members recalled personal experiences of getting to know Sheila in the biblical sense.
"She did an excellent job of getting me aroused. When I attempted to return the favor, she tensed up." I shook my head and took another sip of tepid coffee. "I asked permission to proceed, and she declined. I stopped, and nothing more happened. We fell asleep in each other's arms."
"Is Mr. Richards' statement accurate?"
Sheila nodded in the affirmative.
"I submit the testimony and statements given by Alice, her daughter StarShine, and our leader are proof that Dennis is not the sexual predator he was alleged to be," Darlene pronounced as she frowned at the two women from the coffee line.
The younger woman responded with a half smile and shrug of her shoulders while her older partner glared at me like an industrial laser. If looks could kill, I would've been a smoldering ash heap.
Darlene's next words became submerged in a rising tide of conversation as the membership began to digest the implications of her statement. Every now and then I caught a sister glance in my direction as she talked to her companion. Several of the glances ended in smiles ranging from bold to shy.
I was surprised at the silence of the moderator's gavel. And was amazed she let the chatter run its course for several minutes. At the crest of discussion, she restored an easy silence with a few knuckle raps on the table. The subtle use of the human touch made the call to order more personal and less authoritarian. I smiled in spite of myself. She was likely a far better poker player than I thought.
"Thank you, Darlene, for the compelling testimony. Does any member of the Society wish to dispute the evidence of Mr. Richard's innocence?"
“The floor is now open to general questions. Those wishing to ask Alice or Dennis questions relating to their survival experience, rise and be recognized."
For the longest time, the invitation went unanswered. Then the woman sitting next to StarShine stood and Alice asked, "What was it like being with a man, I mean Dennis, around the clock for seven days? You two couldn't even take a shit in private? I would go crazy even if he was my brother."
One of the members brought the house down with the cat-call, "I would go crazy if it was my brother."
"Alice, you go first. Then I will ask Mr. Richards to respond." Sheila tilted back in her chair and motioned Alice to answer.
I shifted forward and rested my hand on my knee to keep it from shaking as the fear induced adrenaline-high from fear of a run-away lynch mob society abated. That was too flipping close for comfort.
"I would have gone crazy if not for Dennis. I hate snakes. I was scared to death," Alice said with a shiver as she fought to keep her composure. Phobias are not logical creatures, and mind fear can paralyze even an Olympic strongman. Or woman.
I thought Darlene wore the crown when it came to the over-sharing of personal information. Darlene's prize crumbled as Alice embarked on an explicitly detailed account of every moment we were together. Her account of lovemaking cut short by premature ejaculation left me blushing and fidgeting in my chair. I was getting sliced and diced like a laboratory rat.
My status was almost redeemed when Alice pronounced me to be an excellent lover despite my deficiencies. I licked my lips and suppressed the temptation to smile. The mood of the assembly was shifting away from hostile toward almost friendly, or at least friendly curiosity.
My turn to answer came after nearly forty-five minutes of testimony when Sheila thanked Alice for sharing as she turned to me and said, "And what was it like to spend so much time with Alice? What kept you from going crazy?"
"As far as our time together? It was a frustrating, aggravating, annoying, and wonderful roller coaster ride. We survived because we worked together and we needed each other. I kept in mind that as annoying as all this was to me, it had to be just as bad for Alice. We were stuck with each other for better or worse, so we made the best of it." I shrugged and touched her hand with mine.
"We had a choice. We could be friends pretending to be lovers or lovers pretending to be friends. We decided to be friends." I settled back in my chair as I finished speaking. I had no more to say.
For the next hour, the line of inquiry from the membership meandered like a lazy river all over the map. Did we get bored with nothing to do? Sometimes, but mostly we were too busy being scared to be bored. Did we ever lose hope of rescue? Yes and yes. How did we spend our time? Sleeping, talking, napping, fooling around, being depressed, cheering each other up, screwing, and sleeping.
Gradually the sisters narrowed their questions and began to focus on my future status; Alice's daughter finally addressed the elephant in the room.
"Dennis, do you want to join the sisterhood as a permanent member of the society?"
The moderator leaned back in her chair and studied StarShine for a moment before turning to me and sitting upright.
"Do you want to become a member of our Society?"
"Yes," I replied after a short pause. The question had caught me by surprise.
"Why?" Sheila asked.
"Survival," I responded.
Sheila tilted her head to one side as her eyes widened in an expression of puzzlement. "Survival?"
"Yes, survival. This is the high mountains in winter. Without the warmth and shelter of this place I wouldn't last a night out there." I swept my arm in a broad arc and gestured at the wilderness beyond the walls of the conference room. "Survival is much more than staying alive while we wait to die."
I rose from my chair and walked to the edge of the stage. "Most of my life has been as a solitary man with few friends. Alone but not lonely. All my best friends have been female. I have no close male friends. Maybe it's because I was sexually abused as a kid, or maybe I'm weird. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the company of women more than I do the companionship of men."
I held the palms of my hands open at my side and looked into the faces of the members. "All my best friends have been women. Some relationships were sexual and others were not. None have been with men."
I twisted around to face Sheila and Alice. "I've only been here a short time," I glanced at my wristwatch and fingered the necklace I wore, "and most of that time was alone with Alice in the dark." I half laughed, brushed my thinning hair with my hand, turned sideways and scanned the attentive faces in the auditorium.
"Since my arrival I have made the acquaintance of some remarkable people and shared time with Sheila and Alice, many, many moments with Darlene, and a brief encounter with StarShine." I smiled and did a slight bow of honor and appreciation to StarShine.
"You want to know if I would like to be a member of this family," I extended my arms to embrace the membership. "I already feel like we are kin. It's strange, even from the moment I first arrived it was as if I were returning to a home I never knew I had. The answer is most definitely, yes!” I raised my voice and nodded in the affirmative.
"Yes. Yes I would," I spoke in a voice not much louder than a stage whisper as I returned to my seat.
My pounding heart drowned out the ringing silence of the hall. I forced myself to take slow steady breaths. It was unnerving. I couldn't figure which direction the wind was blowing from and that scared the shit out of me.
"Would you care to put that question into the form of a motion?" Sheila asked Alice's daughter.
The question appeared to take StarShine by surprise. For a brief instant her eyes darted around the room as she appeared to waver before she turned to her mother for support. Her reward was a broad smile and an enthusiastic nod of approval.
Her mother's support appeared to give StarShine the resolve she needed. Her posture became ramrod straight as she sat in her chair, took a breath and said, "I move we let him join our society."
"So moved. Is there a second?"
When Alice shifted in her seat I gave her a slight head shake while mouthing the word “wait.” It would look less like a family affair if someone else besides her mother seconded her motion.
"We have a motion on the table, is there a second?" Sheila repeated as she scanned the silent meeting.
"Second, for the purposes of discussion!" A voice called from the back of the hall. It was Brenda, the Society's Quartermaster.
"Moved and seconded. The question is now before us: shall Dennis Richards be admitted as a member of the Liberty Mountain Society of Sisters?" Sheila spoke in the neutral tone of a seasoned meeting moderator. She gave a tiny emphasis to the word “shall.” I couldn't be sure if she was using the word as a question or a command.
"StarShine, would you like to speak to the motion?"
"Huh? Eer, yeah, I mean yes, Madame Moderator." Alice’s daughter hesitated hesitated as she rose to her feet, uncertain of the protocol of motion making. She was a typical meeting rookie. Folks making a motion for the first time are often unprepared to explain why members should support their position.
One of the women sitting behind StarShine whispered something and the daughter nodded, paused and stood straight and poised as she gathered her voice.
"I had never met a man before he came here," She studied my face and brushed her hair with her hand as a nervous smile wrinkled the sides of her eyes. "I like him," she grinned at me, "and my mother likes him also." She paused and started to sit down.
"And I think he likes me, too. Please vote for him, " StarShine blushed and dropped into oh her seat with a soft woosh.
Doing a quick head count, it seemed like slightly more than half the membership seemed to be on the friendly side with several showing obvious signs of approval. Many of the women had relaxed smiles, neutral to positive body language, and most returned my glance with a glance of their own.
Three or four ladies were in the same clique that accused me of assaulting Alice and her daughter; they glowered at me with faces which could have been carved out on a glacier.
Then there were the woman of the twilight zone. I had no idea which side they were on; whatever emotional cards these ladies were holding were being played too close to their chests.
"Point of personal privilege, Madame Moderator," Alice held her hand in the air and rose from her seat.
"Which point is that?" Sheila inquired as her eyebrows arched in an expression of puzzlement.
"My daughter, bless her heart, misrepresented the relationship I have with Mr. Richards. I rise to correct the record." Alice's hand gripped the back of her chair.
"Continue," Sheila said with a wave of her hand.
"My daughter said that I like him. It's much more than like. We became lovers, but not the kind of casual lovers who enter our lives for a moment to be quickly forgotten. It was different and it felt like we were family," Alice explained.
"So noted for the record." Sheila tapped her gavel lightly on the wooden sounding block and checked her watch.
"We have a motion on the floor and we've been meeting for just over two hours. The chair declares a ninety minute recess for dinner and a bathroom break; I've reached the limit of human endurance and I gotta take a piss and get something to eat." Sheila shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "We'll continue debate on the motion when we reconvene." Sheila banged the gavel, "We stand in recess."
A chorus of "Amens" and one "Thank God" gave testament to her impeccable sense of timing as members headed for the exits and the nearest bathroom.
Darlene, StarShine, and the Brenda the Quartermaster rushed into the well of the amphitheater and motioned for me and Alice to join them.
"We've got only and hour and a half so we've got to hustle!" Darlene gave me a hug as we gathered around her in a group huddle.
"I want you, Brenda, and StarShine to talk to as many people as possible while we're in recess and try to get their support for the motion," Darlene told Alice. "While you're doing that, I'll bring him around to shake hands and let him introduce himself. I think we may have almost enough votes to carry the question," she explained as she pushed me in the direction of the beverage cart by the exit.
"Everyone, grab a coffee for the road, we've got work to do," StarShine said as she thrust a hot mug of Java in my hands.
The next ninety minutes passed in a hurried blur of introductions, handshakes, and friendly hugs as Darlene and I moved among the multitude of women. With the exception of the frost queen and several of her companions, most of the sisterhood were friendly and receptive to the idea sharing their home with me.
Alice and I took our seats on each side of Sheila as the last stragglers filed into the amphitheater and returned to their places.
"Before we resume, I want to thank our kitchen crew for a fantastic, as usual, flash-banquet. Well done, thank you," Sheila said as she held her gavel in the ready position.
With plumbing and dietary needs satisfied, a soothing and comfortable afterglow had fallen over the proceedings. It wouldn't last long but at least we were starting with an advantage. Deliberation was going to determine the outcome of this debate. Other than adding my own voice, I had no control over the discussion.
A fundamental truth of a democracy: having the freedom to speak is no guarantee you'll win the argument.
The rap of the gavel sent a jolt of energy into the gathering and created a new life form as individual participants assumed the dynamic of an assembly; the meeting itself became a living being with a mind of its own.
"We have a membership question before us: shall Dennis Richards be admitted as a member of the Liberty Mountain Society of Sisters?" Sheila paused for a moment as she shuffled her notes.
"Debate will continue until all parties have had the opportunity to speak or the chair determines that a consensus has been reached. At that time I will entertain a motion to call the question. A simple majority vote is sufficient to close debate. A two-thirds vote is required for passage of the motion. Are there any questions?" Sheila scanned the silent room.
"Good. Anyone wishing to speak in support, please stand and be recognized," Sheila leaned forward in her chair and studied the crowd.
"Yes, Brenda what is on your mind?" Sheila called on the Quartermaster waving her hand in the air.
Brenda's demeanor was confident and self-assured as she stepped onto the stage and took a handheld microphone from Sheila.
"I will vote to give this man a home with us at Liberty Mountain. He is a fellow veteran and I give him the benefit of the doubt. He is welcome to share our home." She handed Sheila the microphone and returned to her seat.
"Does anyone wish to speak in opposition to the question?" Sheila studied the assembly and called upon the Frost Queen rising out of her chair.
"I don't want him here. I did not work fifteen years building this place to share it with a man. I don't think any of us did. He has no place here. He has to go. That's all I have to say. For now." Frosty's glare sent chills up my spine; she was not somebody to be trifled with.
For the next forty-five minutes I watched in frustrated apprehension as the debate ebbed and flowed between positive and negative while the assembly struggled to find a consensus between polar opposites. The hatred of the Frost Queen stood in sharp contrast to Alice's affection. StarShine, Darlene, and our supportive Quartermaster had done an excellent job presenting the case for my membership. They even won over a few of Frosty's friends by promising to hold a special meeting and kick me out the front door if I turned out to be an asshole.
Debate had pretty much run dry and the meeting was starting to re-plow the same ground when Our Lady of the Glacier got in the last word. Frosty stood and made the motion to call the question. The resounding chorus of "I second the motion!" left no doubt that debate was over. The vote to end debate passed without opposition. Decision time had arrived.
"I remind everyone that this vote requires a two-thirds majority for passage. All those in favor of the motion to allow Mr. Richards to join the Liberty Mountain Society of Sisters please signify by saying, 'aye.'"
I breathed a sigh of relief when an overwhelming majority of the the Sisterhood sang out a boisterous, "Ayiii!"
The relief was short-lived when a rumble of NOs answered in the negative.
"Too close to call. I'll need a manual count. All those voting in the affirmative please raise your right hand." Sheila divided the room and asked Rusty to count one side of the hall while Marjorie, from the kitchen crew, was drafted as a teller to count the votes on the other side.
"Rusty, your count?"
"All those voting in the negative, please raise your left hand," Sheila instructed the meeting as the tellers again did a manual count.
"Two 'No' votes," Rusty reported from StarShine's side of the hall.
"Six," Marjorie called out from the Frost Queen's side of the room.
"Our membership being thirty-seven and the vote being twenty-three in the affirmative and eight in the negative, the motion does not meet the twenty-four vote threshold required for a two-thirds majority. Motion fails." Sheila frowned and shook her head as she brought the gavel down with a crash that echoed off the walls like the crack of doom.
"What'll we do with him?" a voice called out.
"Good question. We'll take it up in thirty minutes. We stand in recess and will reconvene in a half hour," Sheila declared as rapped the gavel on the table and quickly left the stage. The dismayed and perplexed expression on her face as she stormed toward the exit did nothing to ease my rising anxiety.
I looked around the hall as the room erupted in conversation. The majority of sisterhood was not happy with the results of the vote.
"Now what?" I asked Alice as I wrapped my hands around a steaming cup of coffee and tried to think my way out of a box with no visible exit.
"I don't know," Alice comforted me with a hug. "We'll think of something."
One lousy vote?! I felt like the guy who busted his ass running a marathon only to trip over his shoelaces a few yards short of the finish line.
My mood did not improve when two of the women who hung out and voted with the Frost Queen stopped by to offer their condolences. They were in their late twenties or early thirties and could have passed for twin sisters.
"We thought you were going to win, otherwise we would never have voted no," said the first woman.
"It's nothing personal. I don't care if you live here but it's Belinda," she said glancing at the Frost Queen.
"We voted to keep the boss happy," the first one grabbed her friend by the arm and turned to walk away.
"Yah, she's a bitch when she gets pissed," her companion said over her shoulder.
Great! Peer pressure once again trumps judgement.
I pulled out my pack of cigarettes and fumbled with my lighter while I walked over to the fireplace, took a seat on the hearth and lit up. No point in pissing folks off with second hand smoke; the updraft would take care of that problem.
"There you are!" Darlene shouted as she raced across the the room with Alice at her side running to keep up. "We've got some good news!"
"We've been talking to a bunch of our friends. They feel awful about the vote. We think we've come up with a compromise that everyone in the Sisterhood can live with, even Brenda." Alice hugged me as Darlene kissed my cheek.
"Okay, you've got my attention. Tell me more."
About now I was willing to listen to any suggestion. I was stuck at the bottom of the well, maybe they had found an exit.
The flicker of overhead lights singled an end of recess. The Society's meeting was reconvening.
Alice and I took our seats on opposite sides of Sheila. Madame Moderator never bothered to look up. She was the image of intense concentration as she hurriedly flipped the pages of a speckled black composition notebook. Sheila paused for a moment to read the page, smiled, and using a pencil as a bookmark, closed the journal.
I did a double take when I noticed the hand lettered title of the journal: "Things Worth Remembering" A diary? Seriously?
The hall was on edge with anticipation as the audience waited for Sheila's next move.
"Welcome again to deliberations. We have returned to business and the floor is open. Rise and be recognized so that we may better know your mind." The gavel's bang! echoed from the walls.
"Together we built this place as a shelter to survive whatever fate may throw at us. This is our refuge, our sanctuary and our fortress. We've poured our lives, our values, and everything we hold dear into Liberty Mountain and this Society."
Sheila rose from her chair and walked to the center of the stage. "We've done well for ourselves. Now we face a dilemma, and he's sitting over there. What are we going to do with this man?" Sheila pointed to me.
"What is your pleasure? She asked the assembly.
Right on cue there was a rustle of movement as StarShine rose to her feet and awaited permission to speak.
"Proceed," the Moderator gestured.
"I move Dennis Richards be admitted to the Liberty Mountain Society of Sisters as an affiliate member with all the," Alice's daughter squinted to read her handwritten note and continued, “er, ahh, with all the privileges of membership with the exception of voting and the ability to hold office."
The twisting knot of tension building in my gut relaxed as the amphitheater erupted in an overwhelming roar of enthusiastic approval as at least a dozen voices called out "Second!"
"Order!" Sheila rapped the hammer twice in quick succession.
"I regret the motion fails to meet the requirements of our bylaws and covenant which specifically prohibits us from considering a name for membership a second time. Motion disallowed," Sheila announced as she returned to her seat.
The thundering din of protest and shouts of disapproval greeted the chair's ruling as angry and confused members voiced their disapproval.
My throat tightened and I shivered as a sense of impending doom chilled my body. Alice's eyes mirrored my fear and uncertainty while Sheila repeatedly sounded the gavel and attempted to restore order to the gathering.
Gradually the noise of unruly protest died as members looked to their leader for guidance. Sheila stood behind her chair with her arms extended and the palms of her hands held flat as she moved them in a downward call for calm.
"I understand you are disappointed, but when I accepted the position as your leader I swore an oath to uphold and defend our charter. I have no choice but to rule as I have," Sheila said with a frown. She didn't like her ruling anymore than her members.
"Now what'll we do with him?" several voices called out.
"I told you we have a dilemma on our hands. Our rules require all who reside at Liberty Mountain also be members of our society." Sheila shook her head, "That pathway is closed to us. He can't stay here."
"Then send him away," the Frost Queen yelled out.
"He's done nothing wrong. Throwing him outta here in the dead of winter is a death sentence. We would be wrong to do that. We can't do that," Alice broke down in tears and sobbed into her hands.
"It's okay, we'll think of something." Sheila placed a comforting arm around Alice.
"Like what?" Alice asked between sobs.
"I don't know. I haven't thought of it yet," Sheila said with a shrug which ended in a hug,"Give me time."
"I don't understand how good rules can be so bad. He's a decent man and he saved my life when we were trapped by the blizzard. I would never have made it home without him," Alice sniffled and blew her nose and proceeded to walk down memory lane as she recalled our time together in the abandoned mine shaft.
I squirmed with discomfort as she described, in excessively explicit detail, our farting game and the mutual bestowing of SkyWolf and Seraina as secret names in our sweaty christening ritual.
"He's not the same man he was when he first came to us. Our experiences in that dark place changed each of us. I'm not the same person I used to be and neither is he." Alice rose from her chair and nearly smothered me in a fierce hug.
"Madame Moderator! Madame Moderator!" Darlene shouted as she jumped to her feet with her arm waving in the air. "I move SkyWolf be admitted to the Society of Sisters as a non-voting affiliate member.
Sheila reclined in her seat and studied Darlene for a few moments before leaning forward and brushing a stray strand of hair from her eyes. The leader's silence was unnerving, as was the silence in the room. It was as if everyone had forgotten how to breathe. The leader closed her eyes in intense concentration for several seconds and took a deep breath before speaking.
"Martha, can you come here for a minute?" Sheila called the head of the kitchen crew to the stage.
Sheila stood with the gavel in her hands as Martha approached.
"My position does not allow me to speak to motions before the body. To do so, I am asking that Martha temporarily assume the duties of Moderator. There is a motion on the floor and I would like to offer a second," Sheila handed the symbol of authority to Martha. "I second Darlene's motion. I think SkyWolf will be a wonderful addition to our society."
"So moved and seconded. Discussion?" Martha paused and surveyed the silent hall.
"Hearing none, all those in favor please signify by saying 'aye,'" Martha called out.
I noticed that the Frost Queen stood silently with her arms crossed as the thundering roar of approval echoed from the rafters.
"All those in opposition?"
Again crickets as Frosty and her companions remained silent. The motion passed without objection. Thus SkyWolf was born into the Society of Sisters.
As for the unused page Sheila had bookmarked in her journal?
I smiled when I read her handwriting; "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change - Charles Darwin."
Consciousness came slowly, on the installment plan, one sensation at a time.
I groaned and open my eyes to a room full of sunshine. Dancing clusters of sparkles and glowing dust motes drifted in the sunbeams filling my field of vision as I attempted to focus and give the optical center of my brain a chance to sort out the dazzling array of visual information. For several seconds I stared at the ceiling and tried to remember where I was. Naked, comfortable, and warm in bed with my partner next to me; her bare bottom pressed against my crotch and her erect nipples pressing into my back.
Wait a minute, it's physically impossible to be in two places simultaneously. Darlene lay before me with the innocent smile of a sleeping angel.
"Morning, SkyWolf," the sweet voice of Seraina whispered in my ear. I turned my head and found myself nose to nose with a smile and a set of laughing eyes. She rapidly kissed my cheek. Speed being her defense against morning breath.
My Lord! That woman brought "bright eyed and bushy tailed" to an absurd level. No sane person is so chipper in the morning.
"No time, I gotta pee," I touched my lips against her forehead as I clamored over her on my way to the bathroom.
"Need any help?" she asked as she reached for my genitals.
"No thanks, I'll handle it." I brushed her hand away and dashed for the toilet.
Someday I'm going to have to write a book: Zen and the Art of Elimination. I usually meditated when I took a dump. Hey, we’ve got to think of something when we do our business. I figured I might as well use the process of voiding to find enlightenment along with relief.
The morning chill had left the toilet seat so cold my balls wanted to climb back inside my body. I squirmed and tried to find a warm spot as shivers ran up my spine and rattled my teeth. What the fuck happened last night? How did I end up naked between those two sexy women? I racked my hung-over brain and stumbled through a misty fog bank of blurry memories filed away in last night's memory folder.
Exhibits A-D: Four steaming and delicious mugs of hot buttered rum and homemade brandy (a federal offense).
Exhibits E-F: Two contests to determine who could take the most hits from a marijuana-filled hookah in sixty seconds. It became the loser's task to match the winner's toke total. I won the first round and lost the second.
Exhibits G: Seraina and Darlene shuffling a deck of cards and suggesting we relax by playing a round of strip poker.
Then the record fades to gray, too blurry to read or recall. I wonder, did I have a good time?
Hangovers are major impediments to introspective contemplation. A hangover is a major impediment to meditation. Instead of contemplating my navel, I stared at the ceramic tiles between my bare feet and tried not to throw up as I tried to make sense out of the fast forty-eight hours. I held my head between my hands and stared at the bathroom tiles between my bare feet. I was startled to notice the Colony's toilet paper carried designs which matched the natural floral patterns baked into the ceramic tiles.
In the sport of survivalism you win if you don't die. While I'm miles away from mastering details of play, I have a hunch there are no sections devoted to designer toilet paper in any Prepper's Manual. My head hurt thinking about it.
The joy I felt at no longer being Sheila's "guest-prisoner" quickly faded as the ongoing war in my gut went nuclear. I sort of recall a post-midnight kitchen raid as Darlene, Serena, StarShine, and I foraged for snacks and goodies. Anything to feed a wicked case of the munchies. Kitchen-Karma got its revenge as my stomach bubbled, gurgled, and churned like a science project gone bad. I clamped my jaws shut and fought the urge to hurl.
"Oh my fucking word, this sucks," I groaned. I couldn't think of a worse way to start a day. Foolish me. Diarrhea, the third Rider of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, hangover style, took its turn next to Nausea in a neck-and-neck run for the finish line first.
Kneeling before the porcelain throne, twin fears overcame me. First I thought I might die. Then fearful I might live. For the next fifteen minutes I bent double, maybe triple, as I wrung myself out and drained the swamp from both ends.
Memo to self: booze is not your friend.
When I stepped under the hot shower to help me to take my mind off my misery, Darlene called out, "You better hustle, Sheila wants to see you in her office in thirty minutes."
Ninety minutes and four cups of coffee later, feeling like a wide-awake dishrag, I knocked at Sheila's door and waited for an answer.
"You're late," Sheila announced with a frown as I entered her office.
"Better late than never," I stood before her desk.
"Better never late, take a seat," Sheila replied as she shuffled and arranged the stack of papers on her desk."Congratulations, you're now a citizen of Liberty Mountain's Sisterhood. Welcome to our society," Sheila gave me an ironic smile.
Sheila wore her casual attire like a uniform. Her faded jeans were a perfect match for her lumberjack flannel shirt. She looked like a poster child from L.L.Bean's latest fashion catalogue.
"Care for a nip of brandy to celebrate?" She reached into the desk draw and produced two shot glasses followed by a flask of amber-gold homemade liquor.
"Yes, and thank you."
Maybe a little of the hair of the dog which bit me would help take the edge off a crappy day. It was years since my last hangover. I took a tentative ship of the homemade brew, my stomach approved. With a sigh I relaxed as the warmth of the spirits seeped into my tired bones. There is a heaven.
Sheila held the glass in both hands as she took a sip and studied me. "You look like shit, too much party?"
"Yeah, something like that. Too much weed and booze." I took another sip of the beverage I tried to find a comfortable position in the seat.
"Too much sex?" Sheila asked with a wink followed by an odd grin of inquiry.
“I don't know. You'll have to ask them. I passed out in the second hand of strip-poker," I said pointing my thumb over my shoulder in the general direction of our sleeping quarters.
"Interesting," Sheila said with an amused smile as she scribbled a note on the old-fashioned, green, ink-felt blotter that covered much of her desk. A maze of cryptic notes covered the surface.
Sheila's eyes were unblinking and unashamed as she leaned back in her chair and gazed at me. Like twin moons orbiting an alien world, her eyes peeked over the rim of her brandy glass. Two can play this game; I leaned forward and put my elbows on her desk and rested my head in the palms of my hand, and stared into her eyes.
"You'll do just fine," Sheila said with a grin as she broke eye contact and took a long, slow sip of her brandy. "You're hired."
"Uhh, what's my new job?" I sat upright in my chair. At some point the conversation had shifted from idle chatter to a job interview. I missed the transition and found myself on an exit ramp to the unknown.
"Congratulations, you're my new Administrative Assistant. You're to start work the first thing in the morning,"
"What happened to the old Administrative Assistant?
"You're the first. Now, go back to your quarters and get some sleep. I'll fill you in on your duties when you report in the morning,"
"What happens if I don't take the job?" I didn't plan to turn her down, however my curious nature wondered what the alternatives were.
"The only other job opening is mucking out the stables. Would you rather do that?"
"No thanks, what time should I report?" I asked.
"My day starts at 5:30. Do the math." Sheila motioned her arm in a wave of dismissal.
WTF? Administrative Assistant? Why the hell would she want me to be on her admin-team? Most admin types I knew were gophers, about two levels below indentured servants. Becoming an administrative assistance to a powerful individual is a type of bondage. Assistants serve at the beck-and-call the boss. Essentially, I would be on duty around the clock. As a survivalist group, the Sisterhood operated as a Para-military Democracy.
In many ways Sheila's choice of jobs made perfect sense, at least from her perspective. Notwithstanding the society's vote, I remained an unknown commodity. What better way to keep an eye on an unknown then to keep the mysterious under observation twenty-four seven? Sheila put me in a position of maximum exposure. I would be under her microscope and the watchful eye of a judgmental Sisterhood. I had no place to hide and nowhere to run.
My trial hadn't ended; it had only just begun.
Everything I knew about Sheila told me she was a master gamer with a skills of a chess genius. She was not offering me a job to alleviate unemployment. She was working a gambit of some sort. The uncertainty of purpose generated within me a wave off anxious observation while I awaited developments. The chess pieces on the board were changing position of their own accord.
"She wants you to be her what?" Darlene laughed in questioning amazement at my news.
"Administrative Assistant. She wants me to be her number one gopher, and I start tomorrow." I was curious to learn Darlene's thoughts on Sheila's offer.
"That sounds like Sheila. She's got a good eye for people and she has the knack of putting them where they do the most good or the least amount of damage," Darlene explained as she flipped a strand of hair out of her eyes.
"What time do you start work?"
"I'm not sure. She told me her day starts at 5:30 in the AM. I'm supposed to do the math and figure out when to report. What time do you suggest that I be there by?"
"If she told you 5:30, then I recommend you be there no later than 5:25, just to be on the safe side," was Darlene's advice.
"In that case I need to crash and get some sleep. I'm dead on my feet." I yawned and stretched. The drug of choice from Colombia, and the adrenaline high for my new job, had both ran out of steam at the same time.
At 5:15 sharp, I was at the door to Sheila's office with two steaming cups of coffee. Martha from the kitchen crew had prepared Sheila's coffee to the leader's liking. I noted the recipe, black with a splash of cream and a dash of sugar.
"Here goes nothing," I muttered under my breath as I rapped on her door the to the tune of, "shave-and-a-haircut two-bits."
"Very cute, come in and take a seat," a naked Sheila said that she opened the door and motioned me to the chair by her desk.
"I'm taking a shower and I'll be back in a few minutes. In the meantime, please familiarize yourself with our tables of organization," Sheila instructed me as she leaned over my shoulder to fetch a manilla folder from the corner of her desk.
The side of her soft breast brushed my cheek with warmth as she stretched her body past mine to retrieve the paperwork. There are no accidents and Sheila's world. The physical contact had been deliberate. She was either playing with me or testing me, not that it made any difference. She was the boss.
Titillating as her touch had been, I shook my head and studied the organizational charts of a colony. Thirty-seven black boxes representing every member of the Sisterhood and one grey box labeled “SkyWolf” adorned each of the pages; my little box attached directly to Sheila's.
It was an amazing table of organization. Sheila ran the show but she was at the mercy of the membership. Essentially, the Sisterhood operated like the Pirates and Buccaneers back in the age of sail. Piracy, despite its savage reputation, was a remarkably democratic institution. A pirate Captain served at the pleasure of his crew.
Within the folder were scores of different tables of organizations designed to meet every apocalyptic contingency and scenario. If the end comes from war, the society had plans for that. Several of the women within the clan had degrees or training in the radiation or nuclear medicine. Pandemic? Three tables of organizations stood already for deployment.
Organizationally, the Society of Sisters was a bureaucratic Rubik's Cube with the ability to morph and adapt to ever changing circumstances. I noticed that, like the Marines, every sister was first a rifleman. Riflewoman? Whatever. They knew how to shoot. About fifteen of Sheila's kittens had the claws of an expert marksman.
When I was in the United States Air Force, I worked as a staff member in several command wide conference rooms. I was a classic REMF (Rear Echelon Mother-Fucker) and had the privilege of sitting in on countless command level meetings and briefings. I was at the 5th Air Force operations center the day the USS Pueblo was taken by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968. It was a total cluster-fuck. We had stripped our ground forces of virtually all our weapons to feed the war in Vietnam and the only air power we had was armed with nukes. We had two military responses: either start World War III or grit our teeth. We clinched our jaws and did nothing.
When it came to rank, I was an enlisted cellar-dweller with three stripes and an attitude. Nonetheless, I got to be a fly on the wall in Headquarters 5th and 7th Air Forces. I had the easy job of running the audio visual equipment in the projection booth while Generals with more stars on their lapels then the night sky planned strategy and conducted top secret meetings, briefings, and strategic planning sessions.
Yah, I get this. Sheila's batch of mix-and-match scenarios were nothing more than the Sisterhood's version of the Pentagon’s never-ending contingency planning. The military had plans for virtually any imaginable situation. Want to invade Mexico or Canada? We had the plans on file.
I got a thrill reviewing Sheila's tables. I loved strategy and tactics and had been an avid wargamer in my day. I shuddered to think of the hundreds of hours I wasted playing the games published by Avalon Hill and other war game publishers. Military units from platoons to brigades to divisions and army corps were represented by little squares of cardboard.
The appropriate military symbol adorned each of playing piece along with a set of numerical factors representing attack, defense, and movement. Game play was conducted of mapboards covered in hexagonal "squares" representing the terrain of the battlefield. Each square added or detracted from a unit's combat capabilities. Actual gameplay was a mind-war between equally determined fanatics.
The devil lives in the details and in the case of the war games we played, the details resided in sets of rules often exceeding a dozen or more double sided pages set in tiny tight. Players scoured the rules for loopholes and would argue their interpretations with all the passion of attorneys appearing before the supreme court. Combat results were determined by a random dice throw, as the odds improve so too did the chances of getting favorable results.
"Ahh hum! I said familiarize yourself with them. I didn't expect you to commit the tables to memory," Sheila laughed. She was naked and dripping with water as she towel-dried her hair.
"Don't you think you should put on some clothes?" I suggested as Sheila stood next to me, a patch of pubic hair a few inches in front of my nose.
"Nope. My house, my rules. Deal with it and keep your trouser snake under control," she said with a chuckle as she patted the inside of my thigh. On the last pat, her touch lingered a few moments longer than the others.
Memo to self: research the details of the Sisterhood's Sexual Harassment policy.
"I want to know your impressions about my plans, but first I need your help getting dressed," Sheila tossed the damp towel on the floor and sashayed her way toward the walk-in closet. Midway she turned, placed her hands on her hips and spread her legs, Amazon style.
"I said I want your help and you can't help me from over there," she snapped her fingers and pointed at the floor beneath her feet.
"Talk about boundary issues," I muttered under my breath as I clamored to my feet.
"What did you say?" Sheila gave me "THAT" look.
"Nothing. I said I was concerned about breakfast issues. We don't want to miss chow," I shrugged and approached Sheila. What kind of hands-on-assistance was this lady looking for?
"Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" a little voice screamed from the back of my head.
"After a hot shower I like to rub on some bath oil." Sheila handed me a crimson bottle of some exotic oil from Turkey. "Please do the honors."
"Uh, right here?" I looked at the flask in my hand like it was going to bite me. Then I looked as Sheila impatiently waited for me to play masseuse. Sheila stood before me, her hands on her hips and her legs spread eagle, daring me to to disobey.
"Do you want a standing lube-job or do you usually lay down when you get an oil change?"
"Today I prefer to stand. Don't miss a spot and be quick about it. We're burning daylight."
I rubbed a splash of oil between my palms and paid special attention to her toes as I began to massage the oil into the skin of her feet. "Foot up," I instructed as I lifted her toes and anointed the sole of her foot with oil. Sheila wobbled a bit and held my head for balance. Score one for my side.
I re-planted her foot and applied a sheen of the luxury oil to her ankles and caressed and massaged my way upward. I shivered as my fingers played tag with the soft warmth of her skin and my hands slowly slid upwards toward the gates of heaven.
Water droplets from her shower hung like Christmas decorations from her neatly trimmed pubic hair and her sleek smooth legs quivered with tension as I massaged and caressed my way toward paradise.
"I told you not to miss a spot," Sheila said as she looked down at my hands massaging the insides of her upper thighs. She shifted position and spread her legs slightly further apart in an effort to improve her balance. The view was breathtaking.
We locked eyes as my fingertips rubbed the scented oil lightly across the surface of her pussy lips. She let out a quick gasp and tightly closed her eyes when my fingers brushed lightly across the top of her clitoral hood. Facial muscles contorted and relaxed as she fought against her growing arousal. Her face was conflicted as she fought against her rising sexual response to my touch. The greater the pleasure, the more she struggled for control in a weird game of self denial.
I placed my hands on each side of her hips and turned her body around so that her bare bottom faced me. I loved the way the cheeks of her ass glistened with oil as I massaged and caressed her behind.
By the time I was applying lotion to her breasts, her chest was glowing a reddish pink. Her nipples stood as stiff as pencil erasers, and she had a difficult time keeping her balance. Sheila trembled and swayed to my vertical massage. She blinked, and the muscles of her tightened and relaxed as I applied the last of the lotion. My fingertips traced the outline of her mouth and the contours of her jaw before coming to rest on her shoulders.
"Will there be anything else?" I raised a questioning eyebrow.
"No, thank you. I'll take it from here," she smiled and dismissed me from my chores.
The bathroom game, as I came to call it, became the standard start of each day. The unwritten rules were simple. I would do nothing overtly sexual. We pretended my application of bath oil was purely functional and clinical, and she pretended not to be aroused. Thank God I was fully dressed. I leaked like a broken faucet at the end of each session. She got pleasure from resisting, and I gained pleasure by persisting.
Other than the kinky start to my work day, I found the position as her assistant to be both fascinating and challenging as I did my best to anticipate her administrative needs. By observation and experience, I learned to appreciate her organizational skills
Sheila took her responsibilities as the colony's leader seriously. Had she been a man in the military, I had no doubt organizational skills would have propelled her through the ranks to become a two or three star general.
The Society of Sisters and their compound at Liberty Mountain were the pride and joy of Sheila's existence. She devoted almost every waking hour toward her mission of building an organization that could withstand anything the apocalyptic whims of fate might send our way. The Colony's boss was an innovator who served both as a leader and also as a follower.
Like the Caesars of old, she had the authority to issue any order necessary to secure the safety of the group. Unlike the dictators of ancient Rome, her authority was derived from a five woman executive committee which had the ability to instantly countermand any given order and could remove Sheila from her leadership position without notice.
The ex-com's conduct was kept in check by the Society's membership. Under the Society's charter, any five members of the clan could call a snap election and reshuffle the power deck. The Colony was a compact dictatorship driven by pure democracy. It reminded me of a snake from ancient mythology devouring its own tail. The net effect of the dynamic, interdependent tension within their compact organizational structure was a remarkably stable form of self-government. Sheila had served as the chief executive officer since the group's inception.
I was ready to throw myself into the paper shredder head first after spending the first three days organizing Sheila's notes and files.
"What's the matter; you're awfully quiet?" Sheila asked, as she dropped another stack of documents on the desk in front of me.
"I hate paperwork. Is the stable boy position still open?" I forlornly stared at the mountain of paper as I leaned back in my chair and took a deep sigh.
"You would rather shovel manure than do paperwork?" Sheila inquired with a concerned grin.
I shrugged my shoulders and chuckled as I studied the folder in my hands and tried to figure out which paper pile was its home. Everything had its place; the trick was finding it.
About eight percent of the papers I’d been sifting through were detailed daily logs and detailed inventory reports. Everything consumed was assigned a color code: blue for items and foods produced by the Sisterhood, and red for non-renewable resources that could only be replaced by importing from the outside world.
There is an exception to every rule; iron was color-coded both red and blue. Worn out equipment was smelted into ingots and recycled into new tools by a team of women who specialized in metallurgy and blacksmithing.
Anything necessary for the Colony's survival which was broken, destroyed, or misplaced was a critical loss as far as Sheila was concerned. The Colony's leader placed items such as advanced electronics, radio transmitters, and computers at the top of her worry list.
"We're going to have to make do with whatever we have on hand when the shit hits the fan. We won't see any replacements in this lifetime," Sheila noted as she took the folder from my hands. “Or the next,” she sighed and dropped the report into the red cabinet.
"You need to practice the OneTouch filing system, Sky. Touch a piece of paper only once. Don't let a document in your hands go until you have a home for it." Sheila picked up the file and scanned it for a moment before putting it away in the blue cabinet. "Ask me if you can't figure out where it belongs."
My boss was an information Nazi. She tracked every aspect of life at Liberty Mountain. It were as if she was the brain of a living thing where data and paperwork were the central nervous system. My job was to sort through the debris field of used data and file it away for future reference. I was in the seventh circle of Hell reserved for those who hated office work.
"Christ on a crutch, did you guys ever hear of digital records? They're a whole lot easier to deal with then all this paperwork," I grumbled and lit a cigarette.
"Electronic documents are incredibly fragile. These documents are part of our history. We lose our identity and our culture if we lose our history. I will not trust our survival to computers." Sheila took a cigarette out of my pack.
"Why do you spend a million bucks a year on state-of-the-art computer equipment if you're so skeptical of them? You've got a God-awful amount of server space according to your archives, and you keep expanding your capacity. Your group almost has enough storage capacity to put Google to shame." I flicked the ash from my smoke into an empty coffee cup.
Sheila looked at me, and she inhaled the puff and blew a perfect smoke ring at my face. I blinked as I passed through the circle of wispy gray.
"Enough of this. We're going for a walkabout." Sheila flicked the glowing tip of tobacco from her cigarette, and rested the un-smoked remainder in the ashtray. "Come with me," she said, as she stood and extended her hand to assist me in rising out of my comfortable chair.
"Walkabout?" I gave my boss my best puzzled down-under grin and tunelessly hummed the soundtrack to Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport by Rolf Harris.
"We won't find any didgeridoos or wallabies on this walkabout. Follow me," Sheila instructed with a hearty laugh.
We emerged from the elevator and entered the underground cavern beneath the cabin a few minutes later. I followed Sheila through the maze of stalactites and stalagmites until we found ourselves traveling down a side tunnel to the entrance of a huge server farm hidden in an expansive underground cavern.
A massive sheet metal warehouse large enough to house a football field sprawled across to cave floor beneath the vaulted chamber. Endless rows of racks containing tens of thousands of servers were arrayed in a grid pattern within the windowless building. The wide, dimly lit, rows separating the walls of twinkling machines gave the structure a creepy supermarket appearance.
"This is Athenia, our digital version of the library at Alexandria. We've been downloading and storing all of mankind's science for safekeeping for the last ten years," Sheila expounded as we walked toward the farm's control room located at the center of the complex.
"Let me introduce you to the women who are the guardians of learning," Sheila said, as she rang the buzzer on the center's armored door.
I chuckled as I read the sign over the door: "Welcome to the Department of Redundancy Department." Somebody had a sense of humor. Jennifer and Tammy greeted us at the door with warm smiles. I got a chaste handshake from Tammy, while Sheila was smothered by two enthusiastic hugs.
Today was Jennifer's turn to play shift supervisor, and she quickly took command of the situation. She was a slightly plus-sized woman in her mid-thirties with a casual beauty radiating self-assured innocence from the center of a cloud of pheromones screaming sexual arousal.
An electric spark of desire jolted our bodies like a live wire on a rainy day the instant our hands touched in greeting. Our eyes widened in mutual surprise as the charge passed from flesh to flesh, and our libidos merged in a chemical connection where none had existed before. We were on each other's wavelength.
Our handshake lasted a few moments longer than necessary and ended with her thumb gently caressing the back of my hand as she gave it an extra affectionate squeeze. I gulped and shuddered as I looked into Jennifer's surprised and puzzled eyes staring back at me. She had felt the same thing I had.
Jennifer and her co-worker were each dressed in gray and tan overalls which served as the Sisterhood's unofficial work uniform. The supervisor's zipper was open to her navel and offered an excellent view of two plump and well-rounded breasts. I fought against the urge to rest my head against her bosom, and took note of the quarter dollar sized gold, ruby, and silver pin in the shape of a flaming torch held aloft in front of a gleaming silver lightning bolt instead.
"Like it?" the supervisor responded to my attention to her jewelry.
"Uh, er, yes," I stammered with an embarrassed grin. I had been caught dead to rights in the act of gawking.
"What do these symbols mean?"
The flame and lightning symbols are powerful icons. There was a message embedded in the enamel brooch and the supervisor held the key. Jennifer smiled, and her eyes sparkled as she answered my question. I think that she appreciated my inquiry.
"The flaming torch represents knowledge in service to civilization. It's also a reminder that the secret of the fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus at great personal risk. The lightning bolt is symbolic of the sinister forces of chaos and war being held in check by wisdom and learning. We are the keepers of the flame," she proclaimed, as Sheila and Tammy nodded in agreement.
We strode over to take seats around a rustic oak table in the glass-enclosed kitchenette while we talked. Jennifer, ever the thoughtful hostess, brewed a pot of coffee and set a tray of freshly baked coffee rolls out, compliments of the kitchen crew.
"How much fire have you managed to steal?" I stirred more sugar than reasonable into my coffee cup and looked around at the banks of blinking computers twinkling like fireflies along the service pathways.
"Welcome to Athena's Operation Carbon Copy. She’s downloaded about fifteen hundred terabytes of data over the last decade. It's a long haul. Satellite internet is as slow as molasses. Trying to download the world wide web at three hundred megabytes per second is like trying to drain Lake Erie through a soda straw," Sheila chimed in.
"You've still got a shitload of information." I let a low whistle out as I tried to wrap my mind around the numbers.
"Not as much as you think. The entire Library of Congress is around ten petabytes, or ten thousand terabytes if you prefer, enough to fill five thousand servers. We don't have the capacity to power that many machines. We download and dead store the data to get around the limitations of our electrical supply," Tammy explained between sips of Colombian java.
"Dead store?" I asked. I had never heard the term before.
"Yah, dead storage is what we call filling a solid state or mechanical hard drive. We index the contents, unplug the drive, and keep it on a shelf for future use. It's a bit awkward, but it works," Tammy said with a laugh.
"I thought you didn't trust computers, yet the society has invested a significant amount of resources in computer technology? What's the point? None of this stuff is going to help you survive the day everything goes to hell in a handbasket." I gazed around the facility and shook my head in bewilderment.
"True. Computerized records won't be of much use in the short term. What we're doing here is for the long haul," Sheila said, as she poured herself another cup of coffee.
The blank expression on my face told Sheila that I wasn't getting it. The link between computer files and survival eluded me.
"Civilizations rise and fall on the tide of history. Much of the accumulated wisdom of people is lost, destroyed, or fragmented when they collapse," Sheila tapped her finger on the tabletop for emphasis. "The more infrastructure required to sustain the knowledge, the greater the waste. Mankind's scientific advancement ground to a halt before it went into reverse when the Roman Empire crashed and burned. The ensuing dark ages lasted more than a thousand years." Her eyes misted over at the memory of lost wisdom.
"Do you really think that it will be that bad?" I took a sip of my coffee and studied the three women. I didn't know if I was in the presence of sainthood or bat-shit crazy. These gals had spent the last fifteen years chasing a dream down a rabbit hole.
"I don't know when, how, or why everything will go to Hell, but I know that it will happen sooner rather than later. The fabric of society is woven too thin, and the threads are too weak and frayed to withstand a major calamity." Sheila's fingers traced circles around the salt and pepper shakers as she spoke.
"The whole tapestry will come unraveled if we lose one strand in the fabric of society," Tammy gave voice to Sheila's thoughts.
"A Single Point Failure will send everything tumbling to the ground. Coronal mass ejections which hit the earth in 1859 and 1921 damaged telegraph communication systems, but had little long-term effects. It would bring civilization to its knees if it happened today. We are totally dependent on the power grid, electronic communications, the internet, and computers for survival," Sheila finished her coffee and set the empty cup by the sink.
"Will this project be enough to prevent a new dark age?" I rubbed the back of my neck and fingered my necklace as I glanced at the clock on the wall.
"No, it won't," Sheila shook her head. "Nothing we do here will stop the night from falling." She looked like she was about to burst into tears of despair.
"Then why bother? What's the point?"
"Nothing we do here will prevent the sun from setting, but we can hasten the dawn. We'll need this knowledge to rebuild and recover," the Sisterhood's leader gave the array of lights her nod of approval.
"What kind of data have you been downloading?" I asked as I glanced around at the rows of flickering machines.
"Just about everything we can get our hands on. Technical manuals, research papers, instructional videos, hard science, farming, philosophy, mathematics, animal husbandry. We are replicating and condensing the sum of all human knowledge." Sheila brushed several strands of unruly hair from her eyes and led me out of the warehouse and into the main chamber within the underground complex of caverns.
We took a seat on a cozy bench overlooking the misty lake of hot water fed by geothermal springs. Nearly lost in clouds of steam were the twin turbines and generators humming away as they converted hot water into electricity.
"Forgive me, but I'm skeptical. Do you really think that your digital reference library will shorten a new Dark Age?" I tossed a pebble into the water and watched the ripples spread across the surface of the pond. What value will the wisdom of the ages be to a starving family trying to survive a barbarian invasion?
"No, there's no way to prevent night from falling. The best we can do is to keep the flame alive. Maybe then the night will not be so long or dark." Sheila's pebble splashed into the pond next to mine. "We've forgotten how to be self-sufficient. Do you know how to feed yourself and your family when the supermarket shelves are empty?" She looked into my eyes and waited for me to answer.
I shook my head. I was at the mercy of the food chain.
"We humans have been living off the land since we swung down from the trees. We've done it before, and we can do it again. Beyond culture and history, our primary focus has been in recording and cataloging the lost arts of survival," Sheila shifted on the bench as she warmed to her subject.
"It's one thing to build a Cathedral of wisdom, Boss. It's another to keep the barbarians at bay. How are you going to protect all this?" I stood and waved my arms at the infinite cavern and all that lay in the darkness beyond.
"I don't know. We can't do it alone. We'll need to evolve and grow," my boss said as she rested her hand on my shoulder.
"We need to talk, Sheila." I took her hand from my shoulder and held it in mine as I turned my body to face her.
"I love your dream; it's as noble as shit, but I have serious problems with your plans and our future." I gently held her hand as Sheila's eyes widened in puzzled concern. I sensed her trying to pull away.
"No, it's nothing like that." I placed my hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. "I'm with you and the Society all the way. You have my promise, I'll do whatever I must to help us survive," I paused and took a deep breath. "Do you want to hear my main concern?" I gently massaged her shoulder and collarbone as I gave comfort to her fears.
Look, we're off duty for the next..." Sheila paused, as she glanced at her wristwatch, frowned, and shook her head. "Forget it. We're taking a busman's holiday. Speak clearly so that I may better know your mind," Sheila grinned, as she inserted the Society's words of permission to speak unpleasant truths and raise unwanted questions.
"Okay, let's assume the best about the worst; everything hits the fan, and your plans are wildly successful. Liberty Mountain survives the apocalypse without a scratch," I studied Sheila's eyes and caught the ghost of a smile as she thought of success. "What comes next? On the day after the world ends and it's just us. How are thirty-seven women and one old man going to hold this valley against a hostile and desperate multitude?"
Her ghost smile died as worry filled her eyes.
The days melted into weeks and the weeks flowed into months as winter searched for spring. For the first couple dozen wake-ups, I started each morning with the unreal feeling that I was at the bottom of a rabbit hole. By the end of the second month, the sense of strangeness decreased, and I was able to open my eyes without breaking into a cold sweat. I was still on the wrong side of the looking glass, but Wonderland had become my home.
I didn't make a journey to Liberty Mountain to search out a place to hunker down and wait for the world to end. I'd never been a prepper, and thought the Sisterhood's obsession with survivalism and their belief in the coming apocalypse to be a weird way to spend a life.
"My boss is a brilliant woman, too bad she is wasting her life up here in the mountains," I said to Darlene one morning over a cup of coffee.
"What do you mean, 'wasted,'" Darlene paused mid-sip and frowned at me.
"You know, wasted, as in unproductive. Sheila's got so much talent, 'tiz a pity she's throwing it all away," I noted between sips of Colombian nectar.
"Why? Would it be better if we worked in underground missile silos waiting for the command to exterminate all life?" Darlene tilted her head to one side and gave me one of her strange smiles.
"If the world never goes to hell in a handbasket, they’ll have squandered their lives," I sputtered lamely under my partner's steady gaze.
"If it doesn't, then we’ll have spent our lives as free women doing what we love in the company of friends in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Darlene pointed out the window. “Shitloads better than working a dead end job with no future, don't ya think? Now hurry up, or you'll be late to work." Darlene leaned over and kissed me and sent me on my way with a smack on my ass.
I forced myself to admit it, maybe she was right. Who was I to judge? Their lives were no more "wasted" than nuns cloistered away in convents or monks locked away in endless prayer.
Life with the clan didn't turn out to be anything like the long and glorious vacation I had hoped for. Rather than living a life of leisure, I found myself laboring harder than ever before. Herodian, an ancient Roman historian, once asked a Roman slave how he spent his days. The slave was reported to have replied, “Sometimes I do what I want, but most of the time I do what I must.” Amen brother, you and I are kindred spirits.
The Sisterhood never had a problem with boredom. Everyone, including me, held at least one second job in addition to our primary duties. If that weren't enough to eat up spare time, I was also assigned to a position in the Society's defense team as drone operator and rifleman. My to-do list was longer than my day.
Like everyone else, I worked the equivalent of two full-time jobs and my typical work day included eight to twelve hours as Sheila's shadow and another five to seven hours working in the kitchen or the gardens in the cavern beneath Liberty Mountain. In my free time (ha!) I tried to learn how to fly the drone I was supposed to operate.
Occasionally, to catch-up on the political bullshit back home, I took a shift at the communications center. Scores of live global news channels streaming in via satellite were the Sisterhood's window on the world and an endless source of news and entertainment.
The easy-going routine of the Colony shattered like glass the day warnings of incoming ballistic missile attacks swarmed across the globe. Hawaii issued its alert with a tagline made necessary by their 2018 fuck-up. "This is absolutely not a drill. This is the real thing,"
Two minutes and twenty-two seconds passed before the Alaskan Tsunami Early Warning system was pressed into service to deliver an identical message. ICBMs were inbound and headed to the land of the midnight sun.
Within minutes the amphitheater of the multi-media center transformed itself into a situation room as every member of the Sisterhood took up their duty stations monitoring and sampling global reaction and back-channel shortwave transmissions. The flurry of activity crawled to a stop as we watched in growing horror as civil defense commands in Australia, Japan, and Canada echoed similar warnings to their citizens.
"Oh my fucking word, it's happening." Sheila's face went ashen as tears welled up in her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks. She gripped my arm to steady herself as she fought against gravity and despair.
The center's control officer had activated a digital timer when the first alarm sounded. Positioned high above the banks of television screens displaying all the major network feeds from around the world the doomsday clock was crossing over to the other side of midnight. Assuming the elapsed time since the commencement of the "event" was correct, we were less than ten minutes away from the start of the Third World War.
In a matter of moments, the wall of monitors in the media center went from a collage of random images to a pulsating pattern of flashing new bulletins and talking heads as one nation after another raised the alarm of Armageddon's approach.
Like a bystander watching someone jump from a burning high rise, I rode a wave of terror and my gut turned to jelly as I waited for the inevitable splat! I braced myself against Sheila, and we clung to each other for mutual support.
As the digital clock flicked to 00:10:00 Hawaii announced, "Oops, Sorry. False Alarm." Several seconds later Alaska recalled its alarm without explanation and within a minute kangaroo-land, and our neighbors to the north both canceled their warnings. Japan, the only country to experience a nuclear attack, took another forty-five seconds to kill their doomsday message.
Mankind had been playing Russian Roulette with nuclear war for decades, and the hammer had finally fallen on a live round. Dumb luck or the hand of fate intervened. The bullet in the chamber was a dud.
After monitoring the situation for another hour, Sheila declared a Colony-wide stand-down and a day of thanksgiving. No doubt to allow her and everyone else a chance to decompress and find a clean change of underwear.
"Job well done. Fall out, liberty for all until eleven-hundred hours tomorrow," the leader commanded as she dismissed the women from duty.
When I turned to leave, Sheila's hand grabbed my shirt sleeve, "Not so fast. I'm still on duty, and so are you. There is a meeting we must attend. Follow me," she instructed as she led me to a small conference room at the rear of the amphitheater.
When we entered the meeting room, we found four of the five women from the executive committee already seated in the padded leather chairs around the conference table. Martha, my boss from the kitchen, played bartender and filled glass goblets with generous servings of the Sisterhood's delicious brandy.
The meeting, if you could call it that, was more of a group funk stuck at the intersection of 'What" and 'The Fuck.' No one said a word as we sat in silence.
I settled into the contours of my leather chair and took long slow sips of the golden brew. Brandy is the alcoholic version of "Chicken Soup for the Soul," and it was soon working its magic as a peaceful amber glow tinted the atmosphere of the room.
"What the fuck just happened?" Brandy pushed my unspoken thoughts past my lips before I had a chance to silence them.
"What do you think happened?" Sheila asked she tilted her chair back and crossed her feet on the table.
I opened my mouth to answer, but nothing came out. I took a deep breath I tried again. "I think we got a warning shot between the eyes. We are so not ready for this ..." I left the sentence unfinished as my voice went silent. I shrugged my shoulders and nodded toward Sheila and the women of the committee.
Sheila held her hand palm-up and spread her fingers open like a flower in a gesture of invitation. The floor belonged to me..
"We would be fucked if this had been the real thing. We lack the force of arms the hold this valley, we are not prepared Not even close." I looked into the worried faces around the table.
"What about our Defense Force?" Sheila offered.
I turned to Brenda the Quartermaster, "You're the only person here with any real combat experience; do you think we could maintain this position against anything stronger than a troop of deranged Boy Scouts?"
"No. No, I don't," Brenda said with a humorless chuckle.
"We're safe, but we aren't secure. The heaviest weapons in inventory are semi-automatics for hunting. We have fifty rifles with two-hundred-thousand rounds of ammunition. There are no military grade weapons. Short of raiding an arms depot, what do you suggest?" Brenda got the implications of my question and leaned forward, narrowed her eyes and gave me a look of concerned determination.
Since this post-event gathering was a leadership meeting of the clan and I was "Hired Help," I wasn’t sure which protocol to follow. I studied Sheila's face for clues on how to proceed as I took a few sips of brandy and licked my lips.
"Speak freely so that we may better know your mind." Sheila lifted her glass of spirits above her head and pantomimed an invisible toast.
"I'm not a soldier, and I don't play one on TV, but I think we've got a problem. This place is now my home, thank you, you've all done an incredible job," I made eye contact with each sister in turn and nodded my head. I was pleased to see my complement acknowledged with a smile, nod, or at least a raised glass. "If the shit ever hits the fan there is no doubt we will be safe. However, it's one thing to survive the storm; it is another to prevail through all the years that will follow. In an all-out battle with intruders, we can't win a war of attrition. You, er, we, yes, we, need a force multiplier." I paused and scanned the faces around the table.
"Force multiplier?" Martha echoed in puzzlement.
"Yes. We need to add something to the mix to improve the odds," I said as I tried to recall some of the strategic planning sessions I had witnessed fifty or so years ago while I was in the Air Force. "Force multiplier is Department of Defense jargon for a component added to a military operation which increases a unit's combat effectiveness without a corresponding increase in personnel."
A trio of blank stares told me that they didn't get it. Only Brenda seemed familiar with the concept. "Unit morale is also a multiplier, or divider, depending on whether it's good or bad. So is training. The same number of well-trained warriors are much more efficient than an equal number of poorly trained fighters. Equipment is also a significant factor," I explained as I shifted in my seat.
"What do you propose?" Sheila "unrelaxed" and dropped her feet to the floor, sat upright in her chair and motioned me to continue.
"I don't know. We need to do a brainstorming session," I suggested.
My boss raised an eyebrow at my suggestion to turn her meeting into a think tank for creative problem-solving. I had floated a trial balloon, and like its namesake, the thought bubble floated around the room without direction or guidance while Sheila tapped the rim of her brandy glass against her front teeth while she contemplated my proposal.
After in eternity lasting several seconds, Sheila spoke words which turned my concept into concrete. "Excellent suggestion, Sky, I'm glad you volunteered," Sheila said as she winked at me and stood, glanced at her wristwatch, and addressed her companions around the table.
"We stand in recess for the next hour and will reconvene at the chat nook in front of the fireplace. Mister Wolf will lead us in a by-the-numbers, textbook, brainstorming session," my boss grinned at me as she used the base of her glass as an informal gavel, and tapped the table top.
"Really? You want me to run the group?" I looked at Sheila with alarm. "Why me?"
"Why not? It was your idea, and it's a good suggestion. We hadn't built our Athenian Library when we put together our defense system. After what happened today I think it wise we revisit our plans." Sheila's warm half-smile froze into an icy grimace as she shuddered at the fearful memory of despair when the shit almost hit the fan.
Word of our continued meeting spread quickly among the Ssisterhood, and when we reconvened an hour later, at least a dozen sisters had gathered around the large fieldstone fireplace located at the center of the cabin's great room. Curious women were seated in the cozy sunken chat-nook designed to encourage leisurely conversation and socialization. A half circle of built-in terraced benches created a charming and informal meeting area usually reserved for evening entertainment and spontaneous jam sessions.
"Welcome and make yourselves comfortable. Events of today have raised concerns about our ability to defend our home against an armed intrusion," Sheila noted as she called the meeting to order.
"My assistant is of the opinion we are not adequately prepared to repel armed intruders in a post-apocalypse world. I am inclined to agree with his assessment, especially after today's close call," my boss said as she studied the faces of the assembled sisterhood.
"Today's brainstorming session will focus on the short-term things we can do to defend our home in the event of an armed invasion. My assistant has generously volunteered to facilitate the discussion, the floor is yours Mister StormyWolf," Sheila smiled as she took a seat and left me standing alone in front of the fireplace.
"Thank you, Sheila." I touched my eyebrow in salute and turned to face a growing gathering of women. Apparently, word of the meeting had made the rounds, and curious sisters were dropping by to see what the fuss was all about.
"For the purposes of this exercise, we are going to assume today's cluster-fuck was the real thing. The shit has hit the fan." I scanned the faces of the dozen women seated around the fireplace. I was relieved to see the familiar and friendly faces of Darlene, Serena, and her daughter, StarShine.
"Civilization has collapsed," I let the words hang in the air and paused and left the nightmare details to the imagination of my listeners. "A sizeable force of well-armed soldiers is advancing on our home." I raised my arms to encompass the Great Room and all of Liberty Mountain.
I paused for dramatic effect and lowered my voice to a threatening growl. "They have orders to," pause, "kill," pause, "capture," longer pause, "or destroy the sisterhood. Our lives and the fate of the Library of Athenia hang in the balance. What are we going to do to stop them?"
Fear and despair settled over our group as we each played out the nightmare scenario in our minds.
"We have a defense force, of sorts," I made eye contact with Sheila and Brenda the Quartermaster. "What can we add to the mix to improve the odds? What do we need to do or acquire to optimize our defense capabilities? Any suggestions?"
"We need better weapons," Brenda was the first to speak.
I used a red marker and wrote, "Better Weapons" on the large pad of paper mounted on the art easel next to me.
"Can you be more specific?" I asked.
"Automatic weapons like M16 assault rifles, AK-47s, a couple of .50 caliber heavy machine guns, or at least a few M-60s." Brenda fired off her suggestions in rapid succession.
"Cannons?" StarShine offered.
"Landmines. Lots of fucking landmines," Brenda shouted with enthusiasm.
"Invisibility cloak?" an unseen voice offered with a laugh.
"I'll put that down as camouflage." I recorded the thought on the notepad.
Over the next hour our thinktank expanded the list to include, among other things:
* Punji sticks
* No trespassing signs
* Early engagement, ambushes
* Better training
* Poison gas
* Body armor
* Armored vehicles
* Barbed wire
The exercise turned out to be a successful enterprise in that the Sisterhood's thinking about ways to defend their home shifted from passive to active. Over the next several weeks I worked with Sheila and her executive committee to prioritize and categorize the list of suggestions into four parts.
Items we could acquire on the open market went on one list. Equipment only available on the black-market went on the second list, and the stuff we could manufacturer found a home on the third. Everything that didn't fit the first three classifications went into a folder marked, "Wishful Thinking."
Military grade explosives proved impossible to find at any price. Instead Sheila decided to improvise with bulk purchases of eight pound lots of black powder. Brenda used her online connections to arrange for the purchase of one hundred twenty five units for a grand total of a half-ton of the explosive mix.
Our inventory of explosives would be further enhanced through the acquisition of one-thousand pounds of the binary explosive mixture used for exploding targets. Twenty fifty pound bags of super sensitive tannerite mixture designed to be detonated by rim fire .22 caliber rounds, or any round moving at twelve-hundred feet per second or faster.
The women of the Colony went into overdrive as they weaponized the to-do list dreamed up in our creative planning session. The suggestion to add airpower to our defensive mix resulted in plans to expand our squadron of surveillance drones by half-dozen remote control aircraft designed to carry five to ten pounds of specialized electronic equipment. Instead of hauling gear, the drones would be modified to carry a rack of four aerial pipe bombs, each weighing in at twenty-seven ounces.
The ladies from the blacksmithing and metallurgy departments were demonic geniuses. The team came up with a bomb design utilizing foot long, 1/16th inch thick copper plumbing nipples fitted with an improvised shotgun shell detonator activated by inertia and a flat-side-down roofing nail striker. A grid pattern of shallow grooves etched into the surface of the pipe ensured that each device produced about one hundred fragments of deadly shrapnel. Plastic archery feathers served as tail fins and guaranteed a nose first ground strike when dropped from a minimum height of one hundred feet.
Test day was a blast, pun intended. I joined the throng of curious sisters on the balcony of the cabin while Brenda put her drone through the paces in a series of test runs using dummy practice bombs. The aiming accuracy left a bit to be desired and five feet from the aiming point was the best she could achieve. Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and pipe bombs. We had a winner! Four ounces of black powder produced a deafening bang as seventeen thousand PSI of gases blew the pipe to smithereens.
As if the display of aerial ingenuity was not enough, the IED Team’s next creation was diabolical. I let out a sharp whistle of amazement and admiration when they presented Sheila with the prototype for a landmine activated by either pressure or remote control.
The body of the mine was a hollow baked ceramic shell about two-inches thick and the size a pie baking tin. Sixteen ounces of black powder filled the container. The device was covered by a thick coating of wax rendering it waterproof. As a bonus, the tacky surface attracted dust and dirt for camouflage. A blasting cap connected to a nine-volt battery detonated the mine if something stepped on the pressure activated trigger and completed the circuit.
“I doubt if it’ll be lethal,” Brenda caressed the IED as if it were a sleeping cat, “but it sure as hell will muck-up someone’s day.”
Several back-channel contacts established over the years provided a source, at a hefty price, for two M60 machine guns, spare parts, and several replacement gun-barrels along with five thousand rounds of belted ammunition. On the first day of May, Sheila advised her executive committee that she was ordering a four-vehicle expedition into town to acquire necessary supplies. We had two weeks to finalize our shopping list and prepare for a temporary return to civilization.
We were on a mission it to put some bite into our defensive bark.
"Okay, listen up!" Sheila knocked her knuckles on the conference table and brought the final briefing to order. "We've got an outstanding weather report, vehicles and crews are ready. We are good to go at daybreak..." she smiled as she waved at the huge flat screen display we had installed several days ago and checked her watch for the time, "which means we're in luck. We have thirty-minutes for one last run-through."
"Time for a quick cup of coffee before we start?" I made it halfway across the room to the beverage cart before she could respond.
To cover my transgression, I returned with two steaming cups of Colombian nectar. Sheila's serving fixed precisely as she liked it, black with a splash of cream and a dash of sugar. Sometimes it's easier to obtain forgiveness than it is to gain permission.
"Careful. Payback's a bitch," the commander murmured with a half-smile and a roguish wink as she accepted my South American peace offering. I attributed her spirited behavior to pre-mission jitters. She was entirely in tune with the antsy and excited mood in the room; I felt the same way, an urge to be moving.
Obsessive attention to detail was one of my boss's annoying pain in the ass leadership qualities. The devil lives in the details, and she had me chasing demons and termites in the woodwork for two weeks as we worked the kinks out of the operational details for the Sisterhood's supply excursion.
"I assume you've all had an opportunity to memorize your group's itinerary and route." The chief held her thumb up and scanned the faces of the assembled teams for confirmation. A sea of nodding heads and a forest of rising thumbs replied in the affirmative.
"Excellent, class! Practice makes perfect; let's do one more review. We don't want another Colfax cluster-fuck." Sheila changed her voice from slightly alto to a nasal falsetto as she mimicked a grade-school teacher from Hell.
The Colfax Avenue Debacle, as I found out later, was a legendary fuck-up of epic proportions. Several years after the founding of the colony, a "secret" resupply mission landed on the front pages of the Denver Post.
Divine intervention from the Airbag Gods prevented any serious injury when a wrong turn down a one-way street put the convoy on a collision course with the Denver Fire Department. The hook-and-ladder truck's steel and chrome bumper sustained minor damage while the Sisterhood's SUV sat crumpled in the middle of the street like a wad of discarded aluminum foil. Thank God for seatbelts.
I stifled a groan and pulled out my notepad and prepared to take notes. Not so much as a record of events but as reminders of anything added to my to-do list. I preferred pencil and paper to my laptop. The battery on my writing stick never ran out. I, on the other hand, needed a caffeine charge. Five o'clock is too bloody early; I would rather my mornings to start closer to noon.
The schedule called for each of our four groups to hit one pick-up point after another until we completed our assigned shopping lists. In addition to explosives and other survival items, each four-person unit would buy as many .223 rounds as they could get our hands on along with at least eight AR-15s.
Sheila adjusted her paperwork and called the roll. "Belinda, you are the head of the Alpha contingent, and you'll be hauling a half-ton of gear and threethousand pounds of ammonium nitrate."
The chief clicked the remote control at the giant television mounted on the side wall of the meeting room and transformed the view of shadowy mountains outlined against the star-studded sky into a MapQuest travel route resembling an exploding chrysanthemum blossom.
A Dodge dealer on the outskirts of Golden, Colorado would be the next to last stop for Belinda's squad where three of her team would purchase a trio of heavy-duty four-by-four pickups. The newly acquired transports would be loaded with as much fuel as they could carry before returning independently to home base.
The lace curtains framing the ninety by fifty-one-inch ultra-high definition image enhanced the illusion of an outward-looking window with a stunningly vivid panorama of the valley and the western Rockies. Virtual-windows were one of the original ideas the Sisterhood dreamed up during a brainstorming session on security. Strategically placed on barren surfaces in common areas within the cabin, the video feeds did double duty by providing both scenery and a glimpse of the world beyond our shelter's walls.
"Darlene, you'll be heading up Bravo company, and your primary load will be a thousand pounds of black powder and a ton of Tannerite. Drive carefully," Sheila noted as she switched to Bravo's route.
Like Belinda's group, Darlene's vehicle ended its run with a hat-trick at the last stop, a Toyota dealership located a few miles to the northeast of Denver.
Instead of a rabbit, they would be pulling three electric hybrid trucks out their hat. The new purchases would be cram packed with cargos of high-efficiency solar cells which could be mixed and matched to construct a wide array of sun-powered devices to provide electricity and recharge our squadron of drones while working in the field.
Ruthlessly efficient, the leader’s policy required hazardous cargos of bomb material to return home under the command of one driver. Losses would be limited in the event something went wrong, as in a smoking crater and the thundering echo of cargo gone bad.
Charlie Team had the most straightforward run with only a single stop to load three-thousand pounds of sheet metal, tools, and supplies for our blacksmiths and metallurgy workers.
"Wonderful! One last thing before we head out. At the suggestion of my assistant," Sheila pointed toward me, "I'm going to amend our objectives to make this a tactical training exercise. Think of it as a scavenger hunt. The first to complete their goals and check in at the rally point wins." She flicked her control, and a gold star appeared at the indicated reunion point.
"Thanks. Make me the heavy," I muttered as I cringed in my seat.
"What'll we get if we come in first?" Brenda, the Quarter Master, asked with a lecherous smirk.
"Pay to play!" laughed Martha as she danced and seductively wriggled her hips from side to side.
"It will be a delight to win." Martha slapped her rear end and giggled as she challenged Sheila to a hip bump.
"I'll take that as a motion. So moved. We have a proposal on the floor. Losing crews must pleasure the victors in any way they desire. Is there a second?" Sheila asked with a wicked and sultry smirk.
"Second!" Shouted Jennifer with a provocative laugh. The Princess of Pheromones rubbed her crotch and licked her lips as she smiled and we locked eyes.
"Third," the frisky Frost Queen gleefully yelped before bursting into laughter.
"Discussion?" The colony's director invited the expedition members to weigh in. Barking spiders and snoring crickets answered her call. "Hearing none, all those in favor say 'aye.'"
I turned in my seat, and Sheila held her finger to her lips. "Shhh, not your vote," she whispered.
"Fabulous," I grumbled as I slumped in my chair.
A group orgy? I was getting too old for this shit.
The frosty summits of mountains on the western horizon glowed with the reflected glory of the eastern sunrise as our convey emerged from the darkened tunnel into the twilight of dawn. We were on our way.
The morning mist lay across the meadow like a sleeping cloud. To the right and left, the three other vehicles followed exit protocol and fanned out across the canyon's floor to minimize damage to the grasslands by not to riding in another truck's path.
"Are you two looking forward to getting back to town?" Sheila took her eyes off the pathway to glance at Darlene who sat behind my seat in the crew cabin.
"Fuck yeah! I'm going to score some sexy panties and naughty nighties," my lady love laughed as she playfully kicked the back of my seat.
"How about you, Sky? Are you looking forward to civilization?" My boss's eyes narrowed as she searched my face for the answer.
Sheila was so proficient at reading body language she could've made a living as a human lie-detector. Talking to her was like playing poker with the cards face up. To my left, I noticed Seraina had shifted in her seat and was paying close attention to the questioning byplay between the colony's leader and me. Since our time pretending to be Eskimos in the snake cave, my wilderness love had become a bit possessive, like she didn't want me to leave the hive.
"Am I looking forward to going back? No, not really. There's nothing there for me. Liberty Mountain is my home and family." I smiled and rested my back against the cab's door.
"What're you worried about?" Sheila ignored my words and tight grin and read the concern in my eyes. If the balloon ever goes up and the world turns to crap, invisibility was the Sisterhood's best chance to stay alive. Every foray into town left a trail of breadcrumbs.
"Nothing's wrong," I responded with a guilty shrug. I felt silly fretting about something which probably would never happen. I doubted humanity would be foolish enough to dive into the abyss. Then again, given the current state of world affairs, who the fuck knew?
By the time we broke from the treeline, the last clouds had vanished, and the sun ruled the sky, a blazing orb in an impossibly blue heaven.
"How about a pit stop? I gotta tinkle," Seraina declared two hours into our journey to the approval of Darlene who shared more information than necessary when she announced, "I gotta poop as well as take a wiz."
"Me, too." My boss leaned forward and peered through the windshield for a safe place to stop.
The power of suggestion worked its magic, where ten seconds ago I didn't need to go, I now needed to piss like a racehorse.
The thin crest of granite along the saddleback ridge along which we traveled wasn't much wider than our vehicle. Too steep and treacherous for travel, the fifteen-hundred foot drop descended into narrow canyons on each side of the trail. As far as I could see, mountains marched northward; the rocky wreckage left over from the collision of the North American and Pacific continental plates.
"We'll rest here," Sheila said as she stopped the truck and shifted from drive into park as she set the emergency brake and tapped out a shortcode with the stop lights. Three long, one short, followed by three long flashes, the signal to relax and hold in place. A quarter-mile behind us, Brenda's headlights answered in reverse, one short and three long blinks of acknowledgment. Message received.
The ladies scrambled to the driver's side to do their business while I strolled over to the edge of the cliff on my side and pissed into thin air. The wind twisted my golden stream into a yellowish mist before it could reach the bottom.
"Let's see what the kitchen team dreamed up for our meals-on-wheels," the commander said as she lifted the one-gallon thermos jug from the tool compartment at the back of the transport.
A puff of fragrant steam danced in the breeze as our leader released the catch and rotated the lid. The prize of the pantry turned out to be a gallon of hot, gravy-thick stew topped with plump dumplings and packed with cubes of rich, succulent venison seasoned in a blend of traditional spices and wild and flavorful plants.
The Zen of Excellence guided almost every undertaking of the Sisterhood. Chores were opportunities to shine rather than drudgery. Computer-generated to-do lists were both random and democratic. In addition to our assigned jobs, we were also expected to give at least thirty minutes a day doing the shit no one wanted to do.
The quest to excel was hard-wired into the culture of the colony. Like everyone else, Sheila took her turn mucking out the stables, mopping hallways, tending crops, or doing any of the scores of household routines which kept the community running smoothly. Rank was a measure of responsibility and had nothing to do with privilege. Do the best you can in whatever you do. No more. No less. The code was contagious. Despite myself, I kept trying to find ways to be a better assistant and a better man.
Two minutes after high noon, our convoy arrived at the rally point located a few hundred feet off the State Highway.
"Gather around." Sheila held her arms wide, and we joined her in a group huddle which gradually compressed into a group hug. "One last reminder, for the sake of us all, don't get involved with the cops. No fucking traffic stops."
Sheila took a deep breath before continuing. "While everything we're doing will be on the sunshine side of the law, the hardware we're carrying is bound to attract attention. A group of women driving a truckload of weapons, ammo, and explosives is WTF moment. Yah think?"
The commander scanned the eyes huddled around her. "Sisters, we live in paranoid times, if you see something say something. Legal or not, we will freak them the fuck out," she paused. "Homeland Security will be our new best friends for life," as she snarled and scratched the air like an angry lioness.
I choked back a snicker as my boss mimicked her favorite Walt Disney character from the Lion King. It was a Hello Kitty connection. People attach themselves to the weirdest shit. There is no accounting for taste.
Two hours and thirty minutes later Sheila was distracted by the GPS display, and she missed the tail end of the yellow traffic light. We sailed past a waiting state patrol car and through the red-light at the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Barely a heartbeat passed before the glare of flashing blue light filled the rearview mirror to the wailing shriek of police sirens.
"Shit!" Sheila swore as she angrily flipped the turn signal and slowed our Ford Super Duty truck to a crawl and searched for a safe place to pull off the road.
"Sky, I need my license and registration, they're in the glove compartment," she instructed as she rolled down her window with her left arm pointed over the roof of our vehicle. She waved toward the side of the road, a visual indication to the following patrol car we were pulling off the highway.
"Stash the Glock in the hump, we don't need any complications." Sheila popped open the center hideaway. I removed the unloaded weapon from its dashboard holster and deposited it into the compartment and handed her the envelope containing our truck's paperwork and her Colorado driver's license.
"Everyone, stay calm and keep your hands in sight. We don't want to give this flying tire guy any reason to be alarmed, they are already paranoid enough," she said in an oblique reference to the winged tire logo of the Colorado State Patrol.
Sheila brought our truck to a full stop before steering sharply to the right and rolling to a halt in a parking space between two cars. She had angled our Ford so that the body of the truck acted as a barrier to protect us and the approaching cop from oncoming traffic.
"Best behavior," she reminded us as she repositioned the rearview for a better view while setting the parking brake and turning off the ignition. With her hands in the eleven and one o'clock position on the steering wheel, she held her license and paperwork at the ready between the thumb and forefinger of her right hand.
I twisted in my seat and looked over my shoulder as the police officer emerged from his patrol car. He adjusted his Smokey the Bear hat while speaking into the microphone clipped to the epaulet on his powder-blue uniform. The kid could've passed for fifteen. It seemed the older I got, the younger cops became. At this rate, if I ever made it to a hundred, me and the boys in blue would both be wearing diapers.
With his hand resting lightly on his holstered service weapon, the trooper leaned down and scanned the interior of our Ford as he looked each of us in the eye.
"Do you know why I stopped you?"
"Did I just run a red light?" Sheila grinned and did a half-giggle of shy innocence.
One of the unintended consequences of the way she held her hands was that her extended arms acted like a vice and squeezed together her boobs and accented her cleavage. It didn't help much that the top two buttons were open on the flannel shirt she wore over her braless chest. Whether she intended to or not, she was giving the young guy an eye-full.
"Yes and ... do you have a firearm in your vehicle?" His eyes widened in fearful surprise as he tightened his hold on his 9mm and took a step backward. He had spotted the ammo clip in Sheila's breast pocket. The empty holster protruding out from under the dashboard didn't help ease the alarm bells ringing in his mind.
"Yes, I have an unloaded Glock in the center hump. Besides the one in my pocket, there's another magazine in the glove box. Let me get it for you," Sheila said as she moved her right hand to open the compartment and reached inside to retrieve the gun for the young peace officer.
He gripped the handle of his holstered 9mm and within the blink of an eye, he had his gun drawn and trained upon Sheila as his eyes darted about, searching for any signs of danger, his body tense, ready to fire in an instant.
"Drop the weapon and freeze!" he screamed.
"Like ice," Sheila trembled, paralyzed in time as Rigormortis of fear froze her in place. A bead of sweat trickled down from her forehead and dripped from the end of her nose.
"Keep your hands in sight where I can see them. I don't want to shoot you!" He licked his lips and tightened the grip on his pistol. "Do not move unless I tell you to do so," he said as he lifted his finger from the trigger to trigger guard, a safer resting place, but not by much. He could still react and fire in under a second. If he was more afraid than I was, we were in big trouble. I was terrified.
My boss's instinct to be helpful and courteous sabotaged her desire to comply. Fear does not mix well with bullets, only his training had held his fire.
"I'm sorry. What is your pleasure officer?" Only Sheila's lips moved as she spoke and remained frozen in place. The sweat on her brow made her look like a talking ice cube. I remembered to breathe and inhaled slowly and tried to relax. I was in the line of fire. I've seen too many YouTube videos of police shootings. When a motor vehicle stop goes bad, cops tend to go nuts and empty their clips when they let fly. If he opened fire, life in the front seat would be history.
"Using two fingers, hand me your weapon. Slowly!" the Mobius strip of time simultaneously slowed down and accelerated as he emphasized the last word with a wave of his pistol.
"I'm reaching for the weapon as you have ordered." Sheila's voice continued calm and steady while she repeated the trooper's instructions and, holding her fingers like a pair of tweezers, reached for the weapon.
"Slowly, pick it up by the muzzle." The officer shifted his balance and steadied his aim.
"Yes, sir." She retrieved the weapon and held it between her fingers like a stinky dead thing.
As she passed the weapon, the trooper's facial muscles tightened and his eyes narrowed and his finger twitched and covered the trigger.
Oh crap! He's going to shoot. I closed my eyes and cringed as my bowels turned to jelly. I held my breath and waited for eternity. It's been a blast.
"Thank you," the trooper sighed. "Don't ever do that again."
I opened my eyes and slowly exhaled. The officer had returned his gun to his holster after he took the weapon from Sheila. Good advice.
The statie flashed his blue lights and joined the flow of westbound travelers. We watched in collective silence as he vanished in the distance.
"That was interesting," Sheila frowned and shook her head. With a sigh, she tucked the ticket into a pouch over the visor and leaned forward as she checked her mirror for approaching vehicles.
"Stop over there, I need to use the can" I pointed to a Starbucks a few hundred yards ahead of us and crossed my legs and gritted my teeth. I needed a change of underwear and having none I needed to clean up before I went commando. The whole miserable encounter had scared the shit out of me and the proof was in my shorts.
"Did you just fart?" Darlene kicked the back of my seat and snickered.
"Something like that," I replied. I slid my sliding seat and reduced my lady love's leg room to a postage stamp sized chunk of carpet.
"Are we having fun yet?" Seraina muttered from the back seat
We had no problem finding a fairly private booth in the nearly empty coffee shop. As our crew settled in, I excused myself and made a hasty exit to the men's room.
I hate lumpy farts. I ignored the yuck-factor and used a handful of fresh toilet water to scrub my ass. Satisfied I was clean enough for mixed company, I stuffed my soiled whitey tighties into the trash. I didn't stop washing my hands until they glowed pink. Even though I used the air dryer I did what every guy does, I finished by wiping my paws on my pants.
"We're going to have to amend our itinerary," Sheila said as she absent-mindedly stirred her coffee with two red plastic sticks as she flipped through the pages in her notebook.
"That stop generated a police record." The director blew on her cup of coffee and placed a white packet of sugar on the gray Formica table top.
"It wouldn't look very good if our names also show up as purchasers of a half-dozen AR-15s, all on the same day.” Sheila took a tentative sip of java and made a face at the steam rising from the scalding brew "Damn, still too hot to drink."
"That nugget of information, along with multiple sales of the same weapon to three groups of women is the kind of data blip which attracts attention," the colony's leader slid the salt shaker and pepper mill next to the sugar square and tapped the packet with her finger.
"Ixnay onway eaponsway, we'll skip weapons today. We'll make up the slack the next time." She tore open the tiny package of sugar and sprinkled it on her coffee. "Instead, I'll drop you, Darlene and a wad of cash off at the Toyota place in Aurora, a 100k should do the trick," Sheila said to Seraina.
"Get the biggest bang for the buck. Load up on fuel, chainsaws, and hit the tractor supply center on Wadsworth Boulevard. Grab any farming equipment you can find and return directly to the cabin. Use your best judgment," the commander ordered as she gave Darlene's and Seraina's hand a squeeze of affection.
"This lot comes to six-thousand-four-hundred-sixty seven dollars and thirty-eight cents. Will this be cash or charge?" The liquor store manager didn't bat an eye as he read out the total. Sheila cringed a bit and dug through her wallet and handed the man her Radiant Blue Titanium credit card. Prestige credit cards are designed to impress strangers with the owner's willingness to spend money they don't have. I smiled; even debt has class distinctions.
"Who spends six-grand on a case of booze? You got bottles in here that cost more than my first three cars. Combined," I gently dropped the cardboard box of exotic spirits on the carpet in the empty crew cabin of our vehicle. "Hell of a party you're planning," I observed with a chuckle.
"It's for us, it's for charity, it's our annual gift to our friendly assessor. His office is our next stop," Sheila said with a laugh as she preened in front of the aptly named vanity mirror above the driver’s visor.
"Is this too daring?" She fingered the third button on her flannel work shirt before she undid it and jiggled her breasts in her hands.
"Nice visual, boss. That's what I call 'cleavage with attitude.' What's the occasion?"
"Charlie's been county assessor just short of forever. He's hardcore except he loves his booze. Says it helps him forget," she said with a grin.
"Crap! At these prices, what the heck is he trying to forget?" I lifted an amber colored bottle of Highland Park 25-Year-old whiskey and examined the sales slip, "Eight-hundred-sixty-three dollars? You gotta be kidding." I let out a whistle.
"Amnesia is expensive. We're trying to get him to un-remember Liberty Mountain. We're not worried about the taxes, we don't want our geothermal capacity and server farm to be part of the official record. No point in leaving a paper trail for others to follow," Sheila said as she attached a thank you note and a bouquet of forget-me-nots to the case of bourbon and Scotch.
Like a good gopher, I hauled the case of ninety-proof Memory-Be-Gone into the assessor's office and stood slightly behind my commander as we waited for a hefty Hispanic woman of enormous proportions to finish her phone call.
I was tempted to hum, "I'll never be your beast of burden" but decided discretion was the better part of valor and kept my musical musings to myself. Ever since getting stopped by the cops, Sheila had become reserved and pensive as if she were pissed at herself, or the world.
The talkative woman behind the desk was all bosom and thighs. Her chest oozed out of her too-tight halter top like twin muffins in adjoining cupcake tins: plump, brown, and beautiful, in a super-sized way. As far as eye-candy went, it bit too much sugar for my voyeuristic tastes.
"Yes, thanks. I'll give him your message," the receptionist returned her phone to its cradle and with a smile turned the Sheila, "Can I help you?"
"Please, can you tell Charlie Sheila Carson is here with a gift?" she said as she pointed toward the cardboard box liquors in my hands.
Her smile froze in place and faded into a frown, "Dios mío, you haven't heard? Charlie Masterson passed away suddenly last week. His funeral was yesterday."
The receptionist dabbed at a tear as she spoke into the intercom, "Mr. Fitzwater. There's a Sheila Carson here for Charlie, should I send her in?"
"Carson? As in Sheila Carson of Liberty Mountain?" My leader and I exchanged puzzled glances as the intercom crackled into silence. A few moments later we stood before the ornate oak door without a name tag. Sheila knocked twice on the entrance to the inner chambers of her departed friend.
"Enter," the answering voice spoke in a deep baritone rumble.
Ponderous sets of Mission Oak furniture crowded the large office. Particles of dust floated like fireflies in the solitary beam of sunshine streaming through the gap between the heavy burgundy velvet drapery covering the picture window. The light from the outside slashed across the expansive surface of Mr. Fitzwater's empty desk. With the exception of a pair of gleaming eyes peering at us from the shaded recess behind the desk, the assessor himself was as invisible as the lurking trolls who live under the bridges in fairy tales.
For several seconds Sheila and the assessor exchanged glances without speaking. Finally, the colony's leader stepped forward and extended her hand in greeting, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mister Fitzwater."
"I don't shake hands with queers," the owner of the unblinking eyes said.
"Excuse me?" Sheila's body tensed and she blinked and narrowed as she took a step backward.
"You heard me, Ms. Carson. I will not shake your hand. You and your kind are an affront to God. I am a general in the righteous army of the Lord," Fitzwater's eyes flashed with fury as he rose from his chair and took a step forward.
The man emerging from the shadows looked to be in his mid-forties and stood about five feet five inches tall. His cloud of unruly white hair glowed like fire when he entered the light. His hands knotted and gnarled with the effects of late-stage Rheumatoid Arthritis held a manila file folder marked with the handwritten inion, "Confidential - Sheila Carson."
"I knew your father and I remember his excitement when he found that shit-hole of an abandoned shack out in the mountains. I used to watch you take female lovers out to that place," he said as he emphasized the last word and opened the folder to scan the paperwork within the packet of documents.
"You are not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Your taxes have not been paid and the property has not been properly appraised. Although you neglected to secure a building permit, I'm sure you've made unlawful improvements since you acquired the land," the Little General said with an almost gleeful snicker.
"Since you're here, let's schedule a time for me to inspect the property. Is next Tuesday convenient?" the assessor asked as he reached for the calendar and held his pen at the ready, prepared to write.
The CEO of the Society of Sisters blanched at the suggestion of a visit and inspection. Sheila looked like a goldfish gasping for breath as she opened her mouth to speak, closed it, and opened it again. No words came out.
"Next Tuesday?" he repeated.
"I'm sorry sir, but our holy place is forbidden to you," I said as I set the case of spirits on the floor and stepped forward.
"Forbidden?" he snarled as rage twisted his face.
"Yes, sir. You are forbidden to trod upon the Goddess's sacred soil. It is not allowed." I used a trick I had learned from my grandfather. When you're engaged in a nasty two on one debate, surround your adversary and force him to divide his attention.
"Sacred soil? Forbidden?" he sputtered as his voice rose in volume as he turned to face me. Behind him, Sheila's puzzled face silently mouthed the words, “What the fuck?”
"My lady is the high priestess of the Holy Order of Athena. We are a religious institution and as such, we are exempt from Colorado Property Tax. You have no standing in this matter," I clasped my hands together in the sign of prayer and bowed to Sheila. It was obviously a bullshit claim, but what the hell; the Society had enough civilian attorneys that they could tie the case up in court forever. I knew how the justice system worked, Mister Pisswater would be an old man before he could win a judge's mandate to inspect the compound.
"My associate is correct, we are here to file the necessary forms to register our society as a religious institution. We are beyond your authority," Sheila said as she embraced my deception. She knew as well as I did that red tape will stop a bureaucracy dead in its tracks.
The meeting did not end well. As far as that bigoted bully was concerned, we were triply damned as immoral, tax evading heathens.
The last thing we heard as we left his office was the enraged voice of Fitzwater screaming,"You'll all burn in Hell, I'm coming for you. The Lord will put an end to your wicked ways."
We missed the deadline for the rally point by two hours. A note pinned to a tree next to the trail told us that the others had gone on ahead and were likely halfway back to the cabin.
Twilight was falling and the sisterhood was out in force as we rolled to a stop amid a chorus of good natured catcalls.
Accompanied to laughter and cheers, the Frost Queen danced to victory with her fists held high above her head.
"I won. You lost. It's going to be my pleasure to settle our bet," the lady of ice taunted us as she wiggled her ass. I winced at the thought of meeting her needs. I would rather sleep with the serpents.
"Boss, she's joking? Right?" I asked.
"Should it be so. But, a deal is a deal," Sheila answered without enthusiasm, the leader hated to lose.
As we stepped out of our vehicle, Sheila faced Frosty and the gathering and put her hands on her hips.
"Business before pleasure. Status report?" she said as she resumed the role of a military commander.
Silence descended on the women of the balcony. They assumed the posture of loose attention as Belinda replied, "All present or accounted for. We ran into Darlene and Alice at a Starbucks on our return. They're spending the night in town. Paperwork problems with the titles; they'll be back tomorrow."
"It figures. I swear paperwork will be the death of us all," Sheila said with a chuckle.
"That it will," Frosty replied with a lecherous grin.
As I groaned, "Oh, fuck!" the sky above our heads caught fire, first as a shimmering glow, and then as sheets of colored lights rippling across the heavens. As we watched, slack-jawed and speechless, the auroras intensified into brilliant multi-colored displays of silent beauty.
I felt the hairs on my arms rise. My arms bristled like a porcupine. To my left, Sheil looked like a tumbleweed. Her close-cut hair stood straight out. On the far side of the valley, trees shimmered with Saint Elmo's Fire.
Beneath the rainbows of the night, the very atmosphere glowed like the inside of a fluorescent tube. What the hell?
The SkyFire Event, as it came to be known, was actually a series of three Coronal Mass Ejections which ripped from the sun's surface when a trio of sunspots aligned with our planet and erupted at twelve-hour intervals. Mankind got a duck's eye view of a cosmic shotgun blast as one solar storm after another sent trillions of tons of solar mass slamming into the earth's magnetic field at two-thousand miles a second.
Radio communications were smothered beneath an avalanche of energy as the resulting electromagnetic storms overloaded electrical transmission lines with millions of volts of unwanted power. In some places, high-voltage lines sagged and melted under the influx of energy. All around the globe, millions of transformers exploded like Roman candles and everywhere, microchips in unshielded circuits sparked into oblivion as power beyond their capacity ate them alive from the inside out.
The shit had hit the fan.
TO BE CONTINUED