After the Apocalypse
Chapter 97: Cattle Drive
by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue
While the abstract idea of moving the Walker cattle to D-A met with instant approval, actually implementing the plan appeared much more challenging. Certainly the Ranch's horses would be useful in herding the cattle, but how many were needed and who was a suitable rider were questions without easy answers. In the end, under the combined philosophies of "the more the merrier" and "safety in numbers", it was a group of twenty-seven, about evenly split between men and women, who made the short ride down Sutton Road. Jeff and Carrie were at the lead, and Jeff pressed forward as rapidly as the snowdrifts allowed. Intellectually, he knew that a few more minutes either way wouldn't matter to the cattle. Logic, however, wasn't a critical commodity on this trek.
The riders made their way to the main barn in the Walker complex and dismounted to clear the snow from the doors. "This is a good sign," said Jeff. "The snow will have been a good insulator-less chance of many cattle freezing to death." He had resigned himself to the likelihood that several beasts had already been lost to the cold, but wasn't planning to let another one die before it was more useful to him dead than alive.
No one had brought a shovel, so the clearing proved difficult. Tim was the first to notice that the distinctive smell of cattle was clearly present. It was faint due to the cold, but definitely there. After about half an hour of coordinated scooping, the barn doors were clear and were, with some effort, pulled open.
Everyone who could fit peered around the door, eager to see if their quest would lead to hidden treasure-treasure of the highest value in the new order. John pointed a flashlight into the darkened barn, and was somewhat surprised to see its beam reflect off the eyes of a bull.
"Some of them are still alive!"
As some people crowded the entryway, others forced the door fully open through the snow. Daylight streamed in, revealing a sight which no one-not even Jeff at his most optimistic-was expecting. Fully 38 head of cattle were alive and apparently in good health; only a couple of animals had fallen to hunger or perhaps to cold. A round of cheers and excited chatter went up, but Doug soon raised his hand and cleared his throat.
"Why are so many of them still alive? It almost seems like someone's either been feeding them or had stocked the stalls in advance for over a month. Something's just not right."
The implication of Doug's observation wasn't immediately clear, but Mark Hunt saw through to its darkest conclusion first. "You think Walker's involved with the Lapeer people?"
"The Razers, or the Flock?" said Joe.
"Either one, frankly. The Flock, I suppose, could be planning to move cattle with them when they head south.. The Razers-well, maybe they were just interested in a source of fresh beef."
"But that would mean that someone knew about the atomic bombs, wouldn't it?" asked Robyn.
"Not necessarily," said Doug. "It's just a matter of being prepared for anything. It makes a little bit of sense that you'd keep a good supply of fodder constantly at the ready just in case something were to happen. And then when it did happen, this would be the result. The cattle are okay, even though it doesn't look like any people have been around here for weeks."
"Can we be sure of that?" asked Jeanne. "I wasn't looking too closely when we rode in-maybe someone's been in and out all along. Although…I suppose that the doorway would've been clearer if that were the case," she said, answering her own question.
"Probably," said Doug. "I don't think that's the issue. What concerns me is what might happen if we move the cattle back to camp and then someone in town comes looking for them. Not only would we be guilty of a crime, but we'd be really easy to track back to BC."
There was then a lull, as the meaning of the conversation took a moment to settle in. Jeff broke the silence-he was feeling euphoric that his idea had proved worthy, and wanted nothing to interfere with its successful completion. "Life or death here, guys. Guilt and innocence don't have the same meaning now that they had two months ago. We need to look out for ourselves, and these animals will be getting much better care-considering the circumstances-with us back at camp than they will here. Look at the feedboxes-they're almost empty. Unless someone does something soon, they'll all be dead. And as much as that much beef would be of use to us-or to anyone-it's better in the long run if it all stays alive until we really need it. Refrigeration won't always be this easy."
The crowd didn't need a lot of convincing-they had, after all, found what they'd come after, and while the curious discovery and attendant uncertainties would provide material for many future late-night discussions, the next step was to try and move the surviving animals back to D-A. Getting the cattle moving was simply a matter of clearing the door at the other end of the barn and driving about ten horses through the opening while the other mounted riders tried to move the herd along the makeshift pathway they'd cleared when they arrived. The going was slow, as much delayed by problems with the horses as with the cattle, but eventually all found their way back to the road. Once on the road, the cattle proved much easier to drive-there really weren't a lot of off-the-road distractions or options.
D-A's barns now supported a larger population of animals than they ever had in the Ranch's 50+ years. While food for the horses and the cattle was now being stretched extremely thinly, suspicions and some quick calculations indicated that it might be sufficient, although hardly luxurious. Nonetheless, there was now one more reason to hope against all reasonable hope for an early spring.
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