Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
November 1, 2019
Outskirts of Salt Water Springs
He awoke on the ground, his back stiff and pained from were he had rolled onto a root in the night. He listened as to his sisters snoring like a couple of grizzlies. He could hear a fire crackling, the fragrant scent of white ash filling his nose.
"Mornin', Austin," his father, Alistair, said quietly. "I need ya to fetch the seasonin' outta that bag..." Alistair was a bear-like man from Alabama. His dark blue eyes were excellent in the dark on hunting trips, and his sheer size had scared many would-be raiders away.
"Okay," Austin yawned. He pushed himself off of the ground, tiredly stepping over his sisters as he made his way to the wagon. Their Pennsylvanian mules, Harriet and Nathan, were grazing on rye grass near a small group of birches. Austin smiled at them as he climbed into the wagon, searching for their bag of bottled spices. "Salt... Pepper... Mint..."
When he was satisfied, he reached for a small tin at the bottom of the sack, carefully carrying the tin and spices to his father. "Here."
"Thank you," Alistair said, greedily looking at the tin. "If you want to freshen up, there's a little stream just over there, down that small hill. Be quick about it."
Austin shook his head. "I'll wait a bit."
He stretched his arms upwards. Letting them relax again, he looked at his sisters. Emma, his younger twin, slept more peacefully, bundled in a woolen blanket they’d bartered for in Charleston. Abby, meanwhile, had sprawled herself across the ground on top of a couple blankets looted from a Walmart.
A drowsy voice asked, "Is something burning?"
"No, Mom," Austin said quietly, "Dad's cooking bird again."
"Oh..." She sighed and sat up, toussled red hair sticking to her face. Her leafy eyes blinked, trying to stay open in the morning's light. She noticed her husband adding butter to his cooking pot. "Go ahead and use the rest of it. We're almost to Dad's he'll have more than enough to clog our arteries."
"I can't wait to see Grandpa," Austin said with a smirk. "It's been a while. If you'd let me go on head--"
"No," Alistair said firmly. "We're a-goin' as a group, and that's that."
"Dad, just let him go," Emma groaned as she shifted on the ground. "Austin, is your watch still working?"
"It's just past nine-thirty," he said.
"It's too early to fight with him, Dad."
"I think your father's right," Luna said. "Let's just wait and go as a group."
"Yeah," Abby said, sitting up. Apparently, she had been awake. "Let's do that."
"Actually," Alistair said, "let's eat. Then we can go as a group..."
The family packed their belongings back into the wagon after breakfast, Emma and Austin walking beside it as they made their way along the gravelly road. Less than a mile from Grandpa McHale's home, they could hear a pair of men speaking, one older, one young and rough.
"Well, Nolan, there's not too many that travel through these parts anymore. Thank 'ee for the ammo," the older man said. “As the song goes, praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.”
"Anything for you, ol' man." the younger one chuckled. "You're our best customer. Not to mention we still want you to join us in Bombingham."
"God bless ya, Nolan Ray, God bless ya, but I can’t. I work for th’ President now, you know that," the older man replied with a sigh. "My country still needs me."
Just then, one of the horses whinnied rather loudly, disrupting whatever the stranger was going to say in reply. Then--
"D'you hear that, Mr. McHale?"
"Aye," Grandpa McHale said. "Aye. It better not be any o' dem Yanks. Or fascists, either. I'll take care of em."
The two men came into view. The other man had two guns raised as soon as the traveling family were in sight.
"You can shoot that bulky man," Grandpa McHale said with a smirk. "The rest are with me, and they'll be staying with me!"
"Daddy," Luna hissed jokingly, "you know better than that." She hopped off of the front of the wagon, walking over to hug her father, motioning for her children to followed,
"Grandpa!" Emma chirped excitedly as she rushed over.
"Well, I'll be damned!" Grandpa McHale chuckled, a smile etched on his face. "I thought you was all up in Boston!"
"We traveled all the way down to find you," Austin said as he joined them.
"I'll be dogged," the unknown man said, twirling his guns before putting them in his holsters. "You come all the way from Massachusetts?"
"Yes, Mister... uh... Who are you?" Alistair questioned.
"Nolan Ray Peters. Who're you?"
"They're the Nightshades," Grandpa McHale said. "These are Emma, Austin, Abigail, and my Luna. Don't know who the bulky man is."
"He's my husband, Alistair," Luna said, eyeing her father closely. "We've just left Nashville--"
"We just call it the Nash now," Nolan interrupted. "Did ya come through Kentucky or North Carolina on your way over?"
"No, Virginia," Alistair said. "Why?"
“Virginia’s got somethin’ set up?” the man asked, surprised. “I’d heard rumors… Oh well. Anyways, that’s the best way to get here, the Carolinas and Kentucky. You ever get past the state line down south, you’ll find the Redneck Republic.”
Grandpa McHale shook his head. “Y’all could’ve at least kept calling it Alabama or somethin’. Redneck Republic ass,” he said, hastily fixing his mistake.
“We’re a republic of rednecks, we had nothin’ else to call it!” Nolan protested, apparently amused. “Besides, we’re better protected than y'all are. We’ve got a navy, after all!"
“Y’all have one ship, for Christ’s sake,” McHale said, rolling his eyes. “Besides, Tennessee’s got it better. We’ve got electricity, we’ve got a president, and we’ve got working phones-- more than you hillbillies down south."
Nolan Ray sighed. “Fine. But we’ve got Abrams welded to the front gates of Bombingham. That’s gotta count for something.”There was an awkward silence as the Nightshades looked between the two men in confusion as Grandpa McHale shook his head.
“Well I oughta go,” Nolan Ray said. Turning to the family, he tipped his hat. “Y’all take care, now, and shoot fascists on sight.” And with that, he turned and started to walk south.
A few minutes later, Grandpa McHale sighed. ‘C’mon. Let’s get ya to th’ house. We need to talk.”