Saturday, July 30, 2016

Nutrisystem Friday - Day 5

Ooooh, can you say BAD BOY?

'Cuz that's what I was on my fifth day of Nutrisystem, and the day I decided this just wasn't for me. But I have a plan! Keep reading...

I had two pieces of wheat toast for breakfast. That wasn't so bad. Let's keep in mind that the weather here all week has been stormy, so that gave me a low-grade headache that I just couldn't shake.

Then we made a field trip to Fry's so I could pick up a little computer that was on sale.

Aside: The reasoning for this comes from the Ecuador trip. A few months ago I bought a Surface tablet, which I really like (I still like my iPad, too, but for different reasons). I thought the Surface would be a good, light computer to take with me on trips. It is, but not outside the country, I don't think. The few pounds it weighs becomes oppressive when I carry it everywhere, which I did because I didn't want to ... misplace ... it if I left it in my hotel room. Things happen, you know. So this Fry's computer runs Windows 10 (on 1GB RAM, which astounds me, but it runs slowly, so that makes sense) and weighs a quarter of the Surface. AND if it disappeared on a trip outside the country, I wouldn't be crying about it. There you have it.

So, a field trip to Fry's and I was HUNGRY when we left.

We stopped at Chick Fil A for lunch. Want to know how to toss a calorie-counting diet out the window? Fast food does it with elegance. And salt. And sugar.

Whopping total for my Spicy chicken sandwich, waffle fries and soda? Just about a thousand calories (1000 calories) for the single meal. Wow.

I didn't take a picture.

I did take a picture of the NS dinner I ate, the Rotini and Meatballs. It was actually tasty, so that's good.

The bottom line for the day was still only 27 calories over budget, and I was careful about including everything.

So what's my current diet plan. Well, I'll update my weight on Monday, for better or worse. Then I'm going to start researching the frozen foods at the store and see if I can develop a frozen food menu that will satisfy me (mostly) and still keep the calories down. In my case I will need to avoid a few trigger items; nitrates and mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) trigger migraines, but maybe I'll do all the research and then remove the foods that might give me problems.

Then I'll share my research. Probably not totally free, but you know me - I write cheap books, and this seems like a subject that might work for other people besides me.

And I'll keep counting calories and reporting, but it won't be NS meals. I have nothing against the company, and the ideas seem good, but the prices seem high. Maybe I'll prove that wrong when I'm researching at the grocery store! We'll see.

More to come.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Nutrisystem Thursday - Day 4

Thursday morning I had two of the NS breakfasts instead of one. I skipped dinner Wednesday night (though I had my day full of calories anyway), so I was hungry by morning.

I had the blueberry muffin and the breakfast bar. Surprisingly (to me) they both tasted good.

For lunch we broke open the NS Three Cheese Chicken and followed the instructions on the package. Since it didn't even fill up half the cup, we each added broccoli to it. It was tasty, but small.

Sometime during the day I had the NS snack cookies and half a coke. The cookies were sort of good, though I thought they were dry. The nutty flavor helped.
For dinner we had the NS chicken pot pie. That's not really what it is. It is more of a chicken soup in a little container and then you add a crusty cracker to the top after you microwave it. It tasted okay.

By night time I had to have a snack, so I had some yogurt and then had a tortilla with a slice of cheese. I added both of those to the totals.

So here's the damage for the day.

So though I sort of pigged out, I still was under my calorie count. Again, I think I might do just as well choosing the right foods from the market. It seems that portion size is the key - and in Texas, that certainly is an issue!

More to come.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ecuador Mission Trip

Darling and I went on a mission trip with a team from Sagemont Church. The trip left Houston on July 7, 2016 and we (finally) arrived home on July 16, 2016.

My entire trip log is in my Notes section. This is the summary I sent to our team leader, Gerry.

General comments
Gerry warned us to be flexible, then gave us ample opportunity to exercise that skill during the trip. I'm pretty flexible by nature, but it was still good exercise.
Gerry also told us we wouldn't go hungry. We didn't. I gained weight. I blame that on eating near midnight for most nights.
Gerry mentioned this was an easy mission trip, and the team agreed. It seemed hard to me.

The hotel in Manta was comfortable and the A/C a welcomed relief at the end of each day. The Pacific Ocean view astounded me every day we were there. Breakfasts filled me, and that's about it. (Thanks for the extra toast, Gerry.)

The mild weather helped me, but the temperatures still had me sweating by the end of the day. That's okay; just an observation. I'm glad we went on the mission trip during Ecuador's winter. (I noticed some people even had Christmas trees up in their homes. Do they have Christmas during their winter?)

Gerry's leadership skills kept the team on track.

Dr. Mark Redd amazed me and edified me with his sermons. His skill with people makes him a special preacher and his experiences as a pastor and a missionary drew many Ecuadorian people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Randy Reed has amazing skills as a street preacher. I learned a lot from watching him. If Heaven has a bulldog, he looks like Randy. Many of the people he met on the street began listening politely, but responded enthusiastically when he finished.

Raul stood as a tower of strength during most of the presentations, and I noticed the young men were drawn to him. His clear explanation of the gospel brought many of them to an understanding of God's plan for salvation.

The sound of the bagpipes echoes far and wide across Manta when Stanley played during the revivals. Those bagpipes drew a lot of people that might not have heard the gospel. Jokingly, I added that the bagpipes also scared away the local cats. Stanley has a wonderful heart for the Lord.

Miguel, with his huge heart, drew people to Jesus by his powerful words and the love he showed for all the people in Manta and in Pastor Angel's church.

Noe and Celia listened to the people and spread the gospel, not just with words but with their attitude of love and caring. I have seen few people with the love of others that Celia and Noe showed during the mission trip.

Though Darling did not speak the language when we started the trip, she learned some Spanish during the week in Manta. Even without knowing the native tongue, Darling did what she does best: she loved all the people she met. To be fair, the people we met in Ecuador hugged her and treated her warmly all the time. My heart melted when they gave her such lovely gifts the night before we left. I think the people in the church saw her shining heart as I see it.

I'm honestly not sure why I was there. I know I was told to go, but I didn't see a purpose in my presence. I prayed about that, and I'm still pondering the response. In Acts 13:2 the Bible says: While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
We hear a lot about Saul (Paul) after that, but we don't hear much about Barnabas. Still, he was told to go.

I loved meeting the people of Pastor Angel's church. I seldom see such devotion to God in people in the US, including our own church. Meeting Monica and David was a highlight for me. May God bless all those people we met in Ecuador, and may His Spirit descend upon the country and make it a shining beacon for His Glory.

My heart grew cold when Pastor Angel's people spoke of their desired “dream” building. That's a certain sign to me that God doesn't have his Hand in those plans as they are. I am afraid it is one of those things where we remold a dream into an emulation of God's design and then look for His approval of it. That will be a painful path for them if they follow it right now. I'm almost certain they also see Sagemont as a source of financial assistance for that dream. I can't blame them. To their eyes we are amazingly wealthy people.

I'm sad the birds pooped on my clean clothes that last day. God has a sense of humor.

And He always has a purpose.

Nutrisystem Wednesday - Day 3

After Tuesday night's pizza, Wednesday morning seemed easy. Oh, look! NS has a chocolate covered doughnut for breakfast!

I took a bite and it was terrible. Absolutely, the worst doughnut I ever ate. Maybe that is why they call it a "donut," but I think I'll rename it as a "DO NOT" because that is the last time I'll eat it. Ever. It was so bad, I took Darling's bowl of almond milk and put the donut into it to finish it, hoping to make it edible. On my third bite I bit into this little charm.
To give you some idea how my mind works, I thought it was a toy prize inside. Darling laughed at that. I didn't bite through it, but I sure did feel it on my teeth.

So how old is this "DONOT" if they have to include this in the packaging?

I had some coffee with breakfast and then went on a small spree of drinking water while I did some video editing in my study. Around noon Darling came and asked what we were going to do for lunch. She looked so sad I said

"Let's go out!"

So much for discipline.

Off we went to Jason's deli. They have an awesome salad bar.

I really like my pickles and olives, which is horrible salt intake and I know I overdid it on the salad dressing. Funny thing is that NS doesn't seem to care much about the salt content of their packaged items, though the literature gives you cautions about salt intake. At Jason's they have a lunch special that is a half sandwich and you can add the salad bar. I had the Papa Joe.

To be fair, I did choose the regular potato chips, but I only ate a few of them. 

The Papa Joe: 580 cal Dedicated to our Founder's Dad. Roasted turkey breast, Asiago, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil pesto, mayo, toasted on herb focaccia bread.

Half a sandwich would be 290 calories. The sandwich was terrific. I had a little more salad, but that was mostly lettuce and jalapenos. By the time I finished lunch I was stuffed.

The positive take on eating out is that Darling always drinks a lot of water. The negative is the cost. I think we spent about $18 for the two lunches.

Not that I minded. I was full for the rest of the day. I did have about 16 ounces of Dr. Pepper during the afternoon, but I'm beginning to think that is a direct result of hyper salt intake.

I did the best I could entering the information, and I'm sure the calorie count is a bit low, but not by much. So here it is.

I see what NS is doing - they limit the size of the portions. I'm not sure they care about the nutritional aspects as much as the total calorie count, and that's fair since the program is designed to lose weight. I don't know if they care about the taste either.

We'll finish the box, and I'll keep you posted.

More later.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nutrisystem Tuesday - Day 2

For the morning I ate the honey-wheat bagel shipped by NS. I liked it, but I'm not including the butter that was on it. Darling buttered it or I'd HAVE To include the butter calories!

Had coffee also. Read some of Ecclesiastes in my Catholic Bible. Ecc 3:21 (NIV) says "Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?" The implication is that animals have spirits. Matthew Henry says the spirits of animals cease when they die, whereas the spirits of men are immortal. I'm not sure how Matthew Henry knows that, but it a reasonable explanation. UPDATE: There is a footnote saying the same thing in my Catholic Bible, so maybe it is from the Early Church Fathers?

That has nothing to do with my diet, but thought I'd toss it in there.

For lunch we searched through the incredible shipped box from NS and found...

Loaded Baked Potato! Ooooh. I like mashed potatoes and it looks similar.

Okay, let's cut to the chase here. This tasted ... adequate. I don't want to be negative, but that's not really one I want to repeat. We added a cup of cooked broccoli to it (the vegetable that SAVES this meal planning!). I also added some dill pickle slices. (Don't make that face - I do it all the time with regular baked potatoes.)

I'm beginning to think it might be better to craft meals based on store-bought meals/calories. At least I'd have more control over the taste.

So lunch didn't last us long, and we rummaged for snacks. The cheese puffs seemed like a good idea. Now, I don't normally eat cheese puffs, so they tasted okay to me. Darling was less than enthusiastic. At some point after that we split a coke. It's worth the calories to me. I'm trying to figure out how to make that one of my favorites.

At dinner I couldn't take it any longer and I threw the Red Baron pizza into the oven. You know what? I could afford the calories! So based on a calorie count, I'm still doing okay for the day.

I need to increase my water intake, but this isn't such a bad experience so far.

Of course, I don't think they planned on the Red Baron pizza thing.

We had a half cup of that Dannon Greek yogurt, the black cherry flavor. I really like that stuff. I added it in.

Then we walked for 1.17 miles in 24 minutes and 12 seconds. The time doesn't count, because Darling took pictures of the sunset colors as we walked through the neighborhood.

So my summary for the day still isn't bad.

More to come.

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 15

Chapter 15
"It's getting dark." Ted looked around nervously as he paced the parking lot near the car. "Where's our ride?"
Claire sat on the tattered car seat of the Chevy with her eyes closed. Earlier she pried the doors open to let the slight breeze blow through the car. "I don't know," she replied, her eyes still closed, "but it doesn't bode well."
Ted stopped pacing and sat in the front seat. "You think they're in trouble?"
Claire opened her eyes a slit and glanced at Ted's face, then closed them again. "If Maddie says she'll be back in a few hours, she'll be back in a few hours. If not, something happened to her or one of the others."
"What about Sam?" Ted slumped down on the seat of the car, his shoulders hunched as he kept his head from hitting the roof.
Claire remained in a relaxed posture and her voice suggested a mental shrug. "Honestly, I don't know Sam that well. Maybe he decided to steal the truck and head somewhere else."
Ted paused. "I don't think Sam would do that. Maybe he and August are having a hard time finding a running cycle. They're hard to find nowadays, what with most survivors snatching at the ones they could find," he said.
"Maybe," Claire said. This time she opened her eyes and looked at the sun dropping toward the horizon. "Pretty soon we'll have to decide what to do, though."
Ted jerked, his head hitting the edge of the car. "What do you mean?"
"Well, we can't leave here unless we can figure out how to leave them a message so they know where to find us. And if we're here when it's dark, we have to decide what to do about the rats," said Claire.
"Surely you can't mean we have to go in and kill them," shuddered Ted.
Claire shrugged. "We might have to kill as many of these rats as we can or figure out how to make them stay away from us."
Ted leaned against the Chevy and looked at the building for a few moments. "It's concrete and we don't have explosives." He looked over his shoulder at Claire. "We don't have explosives, do we?"
She answered him with a shake of her head. "We could try to go in there and set the interior on fire, but that's pretty hazardous," Ted said.
Claire looked around her. "Any better ideas?"
Ted stood straight and turned in a circle, examining everything in sight. "Maybe," he said, "and I like it better than going in there like Hercules and Xena."
Claire laughed. "Hercules would re-route a river through it and call it finished. He never did a decent job..."
Ted looked at her with a strange look on his face. Claire reddened. "Oh. You mean, like the television show." She coughed. "So what's your plan?"
"We could push a car into the store and shoot the gas tank. The explosion will give the rats something to care about besides us."
Claire craned her neck and looked at Ted. "I get it, but cars don't explode like in the old television shows."
"How do you know that?" asked Ted.
"Mythbusters." Claire smiled. "I liked that show." She looked at the sun again. "I forget how quickly the sun sets here." She climbed out of the car and looked at the storefront.
"So what's the plan?" Ted asked.
"I have some tubing in my pack. We can siphon gas out of the tanks onto the ground. If it gets dark and we're still here, we'll set it on fire. Look around for some cans and bottles too. We can make Molotov cocktails. Those do work."
Ted eyed the setting sun as he walked toward the edge of the parking lot, scrounging for containers. "Perhaps Sam will show up before it gets dark."
Claire headed toward the other edge of the lot. "Hopefully. If not we'll see what happens."

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nutrisystem Monday - Day 1

I'm trying Nutrisystem. They had a pretty good offer, a week introductory package for $49, so I thought, well, why not? I sure need to lose weight and my trip to Ecuador didn't drop any pounds.

So I'll track the days here, and my comments.

Started yesterday. My weight when starting? 245 lbs. That's a lot, and it took a bit to type that into the public record. Fortunately, I don't think anyone reads my blog any more! So I guess this is just for me. For the Nutrisystem web site I have a starting weight of 250, which is what I weighed when I got back from Ecuador. An entire year of dieting on my own wiped out in mere weeks! I was down to 235 at one point, so that was really discouraging.

Anyway the Nutrisystem (I'm just going to abbreviate that as NS from now on) package arrived. Sadly, the box was MUCH smaller than I hoped. I guess that explains a lot.

Yesterday was Day One. I made some stiff coffee and used one of the gift cups from Ramon and his lovely wife in Ecuador.

Here's breakfast:
I didn't eat both of them. Darling had one for herself. There is a lot of almond milk in the cereal, but it needed it. I have to say, it tasted okay, but I'm guessing that was the brown sugar. Otherwise it was ... adequate.

And small.

I had more coffee and some water.

I didn't eat lunch from the NS box. We made cabbage soup over the weekend. That means I put a head of cabbage, four yellow summer squash, a cucumber, some mushrooms and an onion into a pot and boiled them. At the time we had no chicken broth, so the resulting soup was bland, but I added a bit of Texas Pete to mine. Hot sauce is free.

Darling added some broth to it on Sunday, but it still has very few calories. I didn't think to take a picture of the cabbage soup. No great loss there.

In the middle of the day I split a can of coke with Darling. Yeah, it's calories. I included it in my eating list. Listen, I wouldn't be the first person to drink my meals, so back off.

Okay, I had some potato chips, too. I'd rather eat them than throw them away. Yes, I included them in my food list, and the calories jumped a lot.

For dinner we split a salad, but if there was dressing on it I didn't taste it.

We then heated up the NS Meat Lasagna, garnished with some steamed broccoli (no butter!). Ignoring the beans (BEANS! In Lasagna!), it tasted okay. Again, I think the portion is a bit small, but I see a trend here. I did, in fact, lick the little bowl clean. Call me a dog. I don't care.

Later in the evening I had a SMALL root beer float. We didn't have much vanilla ice cream left, so we had to use it up, didn't we? I included that in my totals, also.

Nutrisystem has another website where you track all you eat, called NuMi (sound it out - funny!). So here's Monday's summary.

So now it's Tuesday morning. I had coffee and a NS bagel (you'll see it tomorrow), and yeah, I'm a little hungry. I'll just drink a little more water and go write something where my character is eating an entire deer roasted over an open fire.

With mushrooms and gravy...

More to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 14

Chapter 14
Maddie and Tomás climbed the dark wooden stairs. "I thought about carpeting, but it is so hard to keep clean," said Tomás.
Maddie remained silent, her heart beating fast.
Tomás moved to the end of a short hall and opened the door. This room was a twin to the living room downstairs, except furnished as a classroom on one end. A thin, balding man with a hawk nose stood at the end of the room writing on a chalkboard, the scrape of the chalk against the black surface loud in Maddie's ears.
"... so prepositions are defined as ..." The thin man stopped mid-sentence and the three children shot out of their desks, running toward Tomás. "Papá! Papá!" He got down on his knees and hugged them, smiling at each in turn.
"Children, this is Maddie Stone. I'm hoping you get to see much more of her in the future, but she is our guest right now."
The two small boys bowed smartly, and the little girl curtsied, though they were dressed the same, in clean pants and button shirts. The boys had their father's dark hair, though the girl had green eyes and brown hair, which fell loosely past her shoulders.
Maddie felt the familiar tug in her chest that told her these were Transformed children. Something squeezed around her heart. She knelt on the floor, eye level with the young vampires.
"Julio, my eldest, named after my brother," said Tomás, introducing the first boy.
The tallest boy held out his hand, his father's wide grin across his face. His clothes were spotless. He looked about six years old and stood ramrod straight, relishing his importance at being the elder. His brown face already showed the signs of his father's good looks.
"I am very pleased to meet you, Señorita Stone." Maddie shook his hand, a smile across her face.
"Thank you, Julio. I am happy to meet you as well." She looked at Tomás. "It is Señora Stone, though."
"Lo siento, Señora." Color rose in his cheeks, but Maddie laughed and smiled at him.
"It's fine, Julio. You are handsome like your Papá and charming as well."
The smile widened, covering his young face.
Tomás waved the other young boy forward. "This is Luis, named after my Papá."
Luis tried to smile, nervously stepping forward and bowing again. Smaller than Julio, his face still had a round, childlike shape. Someone had tried to comb his mop of black hair, but failed, and his hair shot in all directions over his head. His pants came to his ankles. When he looked at Maddie his light brown eyes were bright and cheerful, though nervous. "Pleased to meet you, Señora." His voice was a whisper.
Maddie smiled at him. "You have such good manners and are very brave to be introduced to a stranger. I'm glad to meet you too, Luis." She held out her hand and he took it shyly, a small smile crossing his face as he looked at her.
Tomás waved at the girl, who could barely stand still. When he signaled her, she shot forward and Luis stepped back, his eyes never leaving Maddie. "This is Ashley, my daughter," said Tomás.
Ashley's green eyes sparkled as she grinned widely. "I am so happy to meet you, Señora. We seldom get to meet other vampires..." A look from her father caused her to stumble over her words and she looked down at the floor. "It is nice of you to visit us, Señora. We are pleased to have you here," she finished.
"I seldom meet new people, either, Ashley, so I am delighted to meet you too." She shook the girl's hand.
Ashley looked at Maddie's long hair. "Your hair is golden. Can I touch it?"
Tears stung Maddie's eyes and impulsively she leaned forward and embraced the children in her arms. "Of course you can touch my hair, you darling, gorgeous little girl." Ashley looked shocked, but then grinned and hugged Maddie back, stroking Maddie's hair. After a few moments, Tomás clapped his hands and the children stepped back, standing at attention.
"Mijos. You make me proud." He grinned broadly at them and they smiled back. "Back to your lessons, now."
They all turned except Ashley. "Will we see you again, Señora?" she asked.
Maddie stood up and smiled at her, wiping a tear from her cheek. "I hope so, Ashley. Thank you all for being so sweet."
As they left the room, she heard Luis whisper to one of his siblings. "She thinks I'm sweet."
Maddie smiled and wiped the tear from her other cheek. She stopped on the steps going downstairs. "How old are they, Tomás? It's hard to tell."
Tomás watched Maddie's face. "Ah, there we have a mystery, for they are barely two years old."
Maddie's mouth opened and she blurted, "But they look so much older! At least five or six."
"Yes, we don't know why, but they grow fast." He chuckled. "Fast enough that it is hard to always find suitable clothes to fit them. Luis, especially, seems to be going through a growing spurt."
They continued their descent. "Where are their mothers?"
Tomás's dark eyes clouded over. "They ran away. They did not wish to be mothers, I'm afraid." He frowned. "The children think they are dead."
Tomás waved his hand imperially, and Maddie thought of Jed's hand motion. "Enough about their mothers. I will not discuss them with you."
Back in the living room, Maddie sat in her chair and gulped her red wine. Tomás refilled the glass from the wine bottle. She sipped at the red liquor.
"They are beautiful children, Tomás." Her voice hardened. "Though I don't know why you needed to drug Shelly and Nancy to show them to me." Maddie looked at her two companions, still dozing in their chairs. Shelly's head was back against the headrest. Quiet snores escaped as she slept, her eyes closed. Nancy's head sagged forward, her eyes closed and her breathing regular.
"Mostly for the discussion I'd like to have with you, Maddie." Tomás sipped at his own drink, his face grim. He leaned forward. "How do you combat the desire?"
Maddie shook her head, wisps of blond hair floating. "Desire for what, Tomás?" Her frown deepened.
Tomás stared into her eyes. "The desire for blood, Maddie. The desire for human blood."
Maddie sat back and stared at Tomás. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Tomás looked in her eyes. "You don't? Those times when your heart races wildly, when your body burns like it has a fever, when you can barely think and want to drink the warm, salty blood of any nearby human?"
Maddie swallowed, sipping nervously from the wine glass. "I don't know what you mean..."
Animated, Tomás moved his hands as he spoke, his eyes glowing. "I didn't know what the feeling was, at first. I didn't know what was happening. When we came to the fortified section of New Pueblo - it was a military camp then - I had times when my heart beat so hard and fast I thought I was dying. I'd snap at my own Papá. I realized what I needed to feel the full strength and power I am capable of." Tomás looked at her, his dark eyes searching and pleading at the same time. "We can exist without the blood, Maddie, but we cannot reach our potential without it either."
Maddie's hand slipped back to her pistol. "You kill people, Tomás?"
He sat straight up. "What? Of course not!"
Maddie moved her hand back to her lap, but nearer her gun.
Tomás sat back and lifted his hands, palms up. "Never! People donate blood for me. Not much - I don't need much. A few pints a month, perhaps once a week."
"So you drink blood - human blood?"
Tomás looked away from her piercing gaze. "Well, yes, but I mix it with a special wine. It helps avoid the craving, Maddie." He sighed. "I wanted to know how you deal with it. I've been told female vampires have a harder time with the desire, since it's the only way they can conceive."
A shock surged through Maddie, numbing her brain and making her speechless. After a few moments, she stared at Tomás, her eyes narrowed. "Are you sure about that?"
"The mothers of my children are vampires. My first companion and I tried for over a year. A few months after she started drinking blood mixed with the blood wine, she conceived and we had Julio." Tomás looked at her. "So far I cannot have children with human women, but each vampire woman can have a child."
"Only one child, Tomás?"
Tomás looked at the floor again. "There are some people working on that problem, but yes, it seems they can each have a single child."
"Do the children crave blood? Do they seem normal except for aging so quickly?" Maddie's breath was short and her voice quiet as she forced the words out.
Tomás sat back in his chair and looked at Maddie. "Aside from how quickly they grow, they are perfectly normal children, though very smart. They have no cravings. I don't know if they ever will, but the few of us who talk about these things guess it might start at puberty. I'll let you know in another few years."
"Could it be coincidental? The drink and the children?"
"I spent many years with a number of women, Maddie, vampires and humans. With none of them was I able to have children, until we started drinking the blood wine."
"And you use human blood? That seems monstrous, Tomás."
He sighed. "We have a system here. Your friend Nancy was clever noticing we have no old people. When a citizen of New Pueblo gets too old to do their share of work..."
"Determined by you?" snapped Maddie.
Tomás waved his hand vertically between them. "No! They volunteer for The Advancement."
Maddie frowned. "And what is that?"
"You and I know that some percentage of people can be transformed by the Z-virus. The volunteers go to a special building where we drain a few pints of blood from them, not enough to kill them, but it helps our supply. We have a complete refrigeration system for the blood, by the way. Then we lock them in a room and inject them with the virus."
Maddie sat, stunned.
"I see you're speechless about that. Yes, that the genius of it, Maddie. We get needed blood, and our old get a chance at becoming vampires. You know that when you are transformed, your youth returns to you. For many of our old people, it's an acceptable gamble."
"How often does it work?" Maddie's voice was a whisper.
"More often than it did originally, I think." Tomás ran his hand through his dark hair. "We give them a large glass of blood wine and they drink it right after the injection. Right now, we had two people survive as vampires and twenty were immune."
Maddie's eyebrows shot up. "Out of how many?" she asked.
"Perhaps four hundred over the last few years."
Maddie frowned. "That's a half of a percent transformed. We originally thought the conversion rate was much lower, with five or six people in every hundred thousand converted."
"Originally I think that was a close number, Maddie. We know people who work to change the virus, though. We try new strains as they are sent to us."
"And that's a lot of immunes, so…" Maddie's face tightened and a small sound escaped from her. "New strains, Tomás? You mean someone is playing around with the virus?"
Tomás hesitated and looked at the floor. "I...can't talk about that, Maddie." He looked at her, his eyes sparkling. "But I promise to tell you everything if you'll stay with me."
Maddie jumped to her feet, but the room swam in front of her eyes for a moment and she tottered. Tomás smiled at her.
"Did you drug me, too?" Maddie looked at the red wine.
"No, my dear Maddie, I wouldn't do that. I gave you a taste of the blood wine." He motioned to the red wine in their glasses. "It makes your head swim when you first drink it, but soon you will feel the tremendous power coursing through your body. You'll see better, hear better..."
Maddie stepped back, her hand on the windowsill while she steadied herself. "Why did you do this Tomás? What do you want from us?"
"Nothing from your friends, Maddie, though I think the young one is pretty enough to stay with me if she desires, at least for a while. No, Maddie, what I want is you, as the mother of my child."
"You're insane," snapped Maddie.
"Not so. I am a visionary," smirked Tomás, relaxed in his chair. "I see a future where my children rule this continent and, perhaps, the world. Where my blood runs in the veins of kings and queens - and you can be part of that, Maddie. There are few vampire women, and even fewer who know the secret of blood wine." He grinned widely at Maddie. "None as beautiful as you, Maddie," he added.
Maddie ran her hand over her eyes, her vision blurring as her knees weakened. "I...I'm not staying with you, Tomás. I have a husband. I have no interest in you."
Tomás stood up and leered at Maddie. "I am sorry to hear that. I wanted to have you be a willing participant, but I think you will come to love me in the future. I already have a room made up for you. And the children will love you." He turned toward the hallway. "I'll get a few men to help us get you settled and take your friends to their vehicle."
Colors burst behind Maddie's closed eyes as she sank to her left knee against the wall. "You better not hurt them, Tomás," she said through gritted teeth, "and when I get past this, I am so going to kick your butt."
"No, Maddie, you won't. I'm the source of the blood wine, and you will want more in the next few days. In a week you'll be begging me for blood wine and willing to do anything to get it."
A pistol cracked in the small living room, muffled by the padded furniture and curtains. Tomás's right leg collapsed under him, blood pouring from the hole that appeared above his knee, and he fell to the floor.
"Like hell she will, you self-righteous fils-putain." Nancy spat the words out as she stood up and helped Maddie to her feet, keeping the pistol centered on Tomás.
The old man ran into the room, a shotgun held in his wrinkled, strong hands. Nancy glared at him, the pistol never wavering from her aim on Tomás. "Put down the gun, Viejo. I don't have a quarrel with you, or anyone here except this sneaky rat." The old man hesitated, looking at Tomás. "Don't look at him, old man. Look at me. I know these Transformed heal fast, but he won't heal from a bullet in his head. I'm a fair shot. You have to head-shot a squirrel if you want anything to eat," she said. Her voice hardened. "So put the gun down."
The old man didn't move. "If you kill him, I will kill you, Señora. And your friends." His eyes narrowed.
Nancy moved Maddie to the empty cushioned chair, her eyes never leaving Tomás, who was holding his bleeding leg with both hands. "Yeah, but he'll still be dead and I won't care. So put the damned gun down." She aimed the pistol at Tomás. "I won't say it again. I'd prefer to shoot him."
The old man looked from one to the other, laid the shotgun down on the floor and stood back up. By this time others appeared at the doorway, but he waved them back.
"May I bandage his leg, Señora?" He took a bandanna from his pocket.
"Sure." The old man started wrapping the makeshift bandage around the bleeding wound in Tomás's leg. Nancy slapped Maddie's face lightly, glancing at her from the corner of her eye. "Hey. You need to wake Shelly up, Maddie!" Her voice became stern. "Wake Shelly. We have to go."
Maddie shook her head and forced herself to stand over Shelly. She shook her by the shoulders, but received a murmured response.
"You won't be able to wake her yet," growled Tomás to Nancy, dark murder in his eyes. "I don't even know why you're awake."
Nancy snorted, a snarl on her face. "You have no idea how badly I want to shoot you, Tomás, but I had to know what your little game was." Nancy looked at him levelly as she moved toward the shotgun and picked it up from the floor, keeping her distance from Tomás and his father. "But to answer your question, I poured that nice glass of water into the seat cushion of that comfortable chair.  Like I'm going to drink anything you give me... When Shelly dropped off, I closed my eyes, too. Mostly." With the pistol in her left hand she leveled the shotgun under her arm and cocked both barrels, then switched hands and slipped the handgun into her holster. "I almost followed you upstairs, but I thought I should stay near Shelly."
Shelly mumbled as Maddie shook her. "She won't wake up," Maddie muttered. "Nancy, I can't get her awake."
Sidestepping back to Maddie and Shelly, Nancy twitched the barrel of the shotgun toward the two men. "Viejo, you need to come help my friends." The old man looked at his son, who nodded. "Now, Viejo. I don't have a lot of patience at the moment."
As the old man helped Maddie with Shelly, Nancy narrowed her eyes and looked at Tomás. "So here's the deal, Tomás. I don't underestimate your abilities, so I don't plan to get too close to you. If you try anything, I shoot you, and I plan to take your head off when I do. If your dad tries anything, I shoot you. If anybody tries anything…"
"You shoot me. I get it." Tomás gritted his teeth, but his eyes still blazed with anger.
"Yeah, and I won't consider it a great loss to the world, either, so don't do anything to tempt me." Nancy glared back at him. "You will walk us to our truck and we'll leave. That should end it. You played your game and you lost, so let it go. We'll take your Dad with us and let him go when we leave Pueblo. I'm sure he can find his way back.
"I'll keep my gun in his side until we're gone from here. I'm stable enough to do that, now," gasped Maddie. She looked at Nancy. "My vision is pretty clear now. I feel…better."
Tomás looked at Maddie. "You'll be back, Maddie. In a few days you'll want to come back…" He grinned wickedly, though the pain made his face fierce in the dim light. "You'll beg to come back…"
Maddie gritted her teeth and pushed the barrel of her pistol into the old man's side, making him exhale sharply. "Don't count on it, Tomás. If you're lucky, you'll never see me again." She indicated the doorway. "Yell ahead. Tell your people to leave us alone."
Tomás smiled grimly as he limped toward their truck. Though people lined the streets, nobody interfered as the three women drove away with the old man. Tomás watched them leave, hatred burning in his eyes, his injured leg dripping blood onto the white stones of the pavement.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 13

Chapter 13
August grunted and stood immobile, staring at the offending motorcycle. As a younger man August often let his anger and frustration sweep over him and flow through him. The anger gave him a feeling of awesome power, but it was destructive power.
Over the years August mastered the art of keeping his temper by not moving. The length of time he stood corresponded to the depth of his anger. This time he stood motionless for a number of minutes, taking deep breaths and looking at the stalled motorcycle. He scanned the highway. Abandoned cars sat along the roadside, many of them rusting to useless heaps. Some had broken windows and showed signs of animal visitation, if not habitation. He saw two that were in reasonable condition.
August spent a half hour trying to restart the motorcycle, to no avail. "I can break you permanently, you know," he muttered, his hand straying to the Sig Sauer at his hip. He tried once more to get his big fingers near the throttle wire, and gave up, throwing his hands into the air.
Again he stood immobile, his palm on his pistol. The desire to shoot the offending motorcycle passed and he sighed. With no maintenance crews, the occasional landslides made the roads almost impassable to regular vehicles. The bridges would be issues in the coming years as well.
The Shadow was a good machine and he didn't want to lose it. August spent a few hours moving it to a more protected area and creating a waterproof lean-to over it.
He trotted toward the other vehicles to see if any were functional. After this many years, the chances were slim, as most of the batteries were dead, even if somehow the gasoline was usable. It took another two hours to check the cars within range, but none worked.
"I should have brought a horse," August mumbled. "And my bow," he added to himself.
Another fifty miles by road to Hemanth's community. That would be three days at an easy pace, and two if he pushed himself. He'd once made a bit over sixty miles in a single day, but that memory still made his legs ache. August considered the situation. Everyone was safe. The scavenging team would spend an uneventful night in Pueblo and then head back to Selah Ranch, where life was more boring than exciting. August decided he didn't need to rush.
He looked at the trees and brush growing to the edge of the abandoned freeway. For the first time in hours, a smile spread across August's features. If there was anything nice about the near demise of the human race, it was that nature had a chance to restore itself. After not quite a decade, the small animals had returned, bringing the larger animals as well. For nature, this was a respite from the onslaught of humanity.
The trees spread through the cities and over the landscape. The water in many of the streams was cleaner, the fish more plentiful, and the air sweeter. Except for the city ruins, the world was returning to a land similar to August's early years in Michigan.
He closed his eyes and stood in the waning sunshine. A soft breeze blew down from the mountains, carrying a hint of the chill of the coming winter. His hair fluttered. August breathed in and smelled the sweet tang of falling leaves, the thousand subtle scents of small animals intermixed with the slight aroma of flowing water. He relaxed and could hear the distant stream, the slight splash of something falling into the water.
A few days in the wild would be nice. There were plenty of streams to fish along the way and he had his gun and knife. August rolled his shoulders and relaxed, breaking into a ground-eating walk.
This would be a welcome adventure.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 12

Chapter 12
Six rows of cars stretched across West Northern Avenue, creating a barrier for vehicles and a serious obstacle for anyone on foot.
"What's with the blockade?" Shelly started to open the passenger door of the truck.
"Stay in here, Shelly. I think we should turn around and go back." Maddie pushed the truck into reverse and backed onto the sidewalk in front of a small store. Maddie pointed. "There's fencing down further too."
"Guess this area belongs to someone." Nancy looked at the paper map she held. "Should we try to figure out the boundaries, or leave them alone?"
"I'm not sure. It's probably the Pueblo enclave, and they've worked hard to remain isolated. What do you two think? We can cross back to the east of 87 and go north. There are quite a few neighborhoods in that part of town." Maddie shrugged. "We can always scavenge houses, I suppose."
Shelly groaned. "Not houses. I agree with August. I think most of them are haunted."
Nancy smiled grimly. "All the cities are haunted, Shelly. I wonder whether that's the legacy that will be passed on to the future generations."
"Haunted cities?" Maddie looked over her shoulder at Nancy. "No, we'll build something better in this world, Nancy. It will take time, a lot of time. We have smart people. We won't lose much technology. We have people that search it out, store it, and use it. We'll work together and create a better world. You'll see."
"I'm sad to say I think you are a little optimistic about human nature. You'll be here to see it, Maddie, one way or the other." Nancy shook her head. "I don't know if that's a blessing or a curse, carrying the memories of what was into a future that might be."
Maddie shifted into drive and turned the wheel back toward Highway 87. As she pressed the gas pedal and moved down the road, men stepped from the buildings on both sides and pointed rifles at the truck. She stomped on the brake and looked at them.
"Well," she whispered to the others, "it looks like we find out more about the Pueblo community." She glanced at Shelly. "Let's find out as much as we can since we have the chance."
"You'll want to stop here," shouted the man in the front of the group. "The Patrón wants to talk to you." He stepped closer. "We'll take you to him."
Their escorts left the truck on the road outside the massive iron gates leading into the city. Ten-foot black letters against a crisply painted white background proclaimed the name of the city as "New Pueblo." The guards marched the women to a house dominating the entire block, a large white mansion surrounded by well-manicured lawns.
A man stood in the doorway of the house. He waved the guards away and they faded into the surrounding areas.
"You're absolutely beautiful." The man smiled at Maddie. The pillars on the porch framed him like a life-size statue.
"Oh, my God," whispered Shelly, "he's like Adonis."
Maddie felt a familiar tug in her chest. "He's transformed, like me."
The man smiled widely. "Indeed. 'Transformed.' What a nice word, but I think I still prefer 'vampire' since it has such rich connotations in our legends."
His jeans were immaculately clean and his silken shirt shifted as he walked toward them, displaying the smooth muscles in his arms and shoulders. His dark eyes scanned Shelly and Nancy, returning to blaze at Maddie with blatant desire. Maddie's face reddened as she held out her hand to shake his.
"Maddie Stone." She swallowed hard, feeling her mouth go dry. "Of Selah Ranch."
"Selah Ranch. Of course. We've heard of you, and your fabled beauty, dear Maddie." His low voice vibrated through her. "My name is Tomás. I am the Patrón of …" he waved his hand dramatically encompassing the entire area "New Pueblo. Welcome." He took her proffered hand, turned it and kissed her fingers. Standing again, towering over the three of them, Tomás turned and looked at the other two women. "And your lovely companions?"
Shelly went to shake hands with him, but he intercepted it smoothly, bowing and brushing his lips against her fingers. Shelly cleared her throat. "I'm Shelly."
"Of course you are, and as lovely as a meadow on a mountainside, shining in the summer sun." He smiled at her, moving his black hair from his eyes with a casual pass of his left hand. "And as welcome as flowers in a meadow." He released Shelly's hand as she reddened and smiled back. He smelled like shampoo and cologne.
Nancy sunk her hands in the front pockets of her jeans. "I'm Nancy. I'm with them," she drawled as she jerked her head toward the two other women, her eyes narrow.
Tomás bowed to her. "And fortunate they are to have an Arcadian in their company, my dear lady."
Nancy frowned. "I'm from Loo-siana, not Arcadia," she said, "but thanks."
"Of course you are, dear Nancy. The original Arcadians settled in many parts of this once great country, most notably in Louisiana, where people called them 'Cadians, then simply Cajuns." He smiled at her again. "I think the term 'Arcadian' is so much more romantic, and more apropos to a lady of your quality."
"You just showing off how smart you are, now?" Nancy's eyes narrowed and she held her mouth in a tight, straight line.
The smile on Tomás's face wavered as he inclined his head. "I apologize. I remember everything I read, you see, so sometimes I tend to soliloquize." He addressed Maddie, his smile fixed. "Please, ladies. It is so rare for me to have visitors from another Domain, and I have anticipated a visit from the fabled Selah Ranch for quite some time. Your horses are fabulous, and we must discuss them! If you'll follow me, I'd be delighted to have lunch with you. I'm certain you're hungry."
Tomás moved to Maddie's left side and offered her his right arm, which, after a moment's hesitation, she took, holding her left hand in the crook of his arm. The two led the way to the front door, held open by a young man who bowed to them as they passed.
Shelly and Nancy waited, looking at each other, then followed them. "He looks good in those jeans, doesn't he?" Shelly whispered to Nancy. Nancy rolled her eyes.
"Really?" she said. "That's what you notice here?"
"You don't suppose he's taken, do you?" The tops of Shelly's ears reddened.
Nancy whispered back, a tight note in her voice. "Pay attention, Shelly. Something feels wrong."
The pristine condition of the house reflected simple elegance without the trappings of ostentatious wealth. The small table in the hall had carved lion's feet and a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers neatly arranged in a glass vase on the top. The smell of lavender and roses drifted through the air.
"I am sorry, my dear ladies. We did not expect company, so our dining choices are limited. We do have a nice meal of cold cuts and fresh fruits, however, as well as a number of beverages." Tomás led Maddie down the hall, followed by Nancy and Shelly, who both stared at the immaculate house, though for different reasons.
"Tomás, though we appreciate the offer of dinner, we must decline. We have other team members we need to find in the old part of Pueblo." Maddie paused, thinking. "We didn't realize you had such a magnificent establishment within the city itself, you see."
Tomás's eyes lit with pleasure. "Well, I can at least give you a tour and some slight refreshments, dear Maddie." An old man stood near open double doors leading to a dining room. Tomás waved his hand and the old man closed the doors and followed the small group, a few paces behind Nancy.
"It is a shame, however. My passion is a gazpacho soup my chef makes from our local gardens. I even think we used some of our own wines for the soup last time."
They exited out the tall back doors of the hallway and started walking down the clean streets of New Pueblo. "We grow our own grapes for wines, and I think we hit a nice balance of sweet and tart. You'll have to try some when we get back." As the old man closed the door behind them, Nancy noticed he picked up a double-barreled shotgun.
New Pueblo stretched in all directions, down streets with row after row of neat houses, though some needed paint. Tomás showed the women two buildings where they grew medicinal herbs and plants. "We have a doctor here, but much medicinal knowledge was lost, as you know." Tomás pointed to some glass-roofed houses. "In the winter we use grow lights, but those are becoming scarce."
Maddie looked at the vegetable gardens, each front yard growing a different crop, though some yards next to each other grew the same plants. A few yards had grass and Maddie asked about it.
"We're careful not to overtax the soil, so we rotate crops and every third year we grow nothing except the grass. Some of the people let goats graze on the grass, or chickens if they wish. I'm not too fond of goats, however."
Shelly laughed. "Neither is Jed," she said.
"Perhaps Jed and I have many things in common, Shelly." He looked at Maddie, his dark eyes brooding.
Maddie pointed at one of the greenhouses, the sun reflecting from the glass ceilings. "We are looking for more information on medical herbs and properties, too, though our doctor seems to know a lot about them already. Our friend Holden in the Fort Collins community is constantly searching different academic institutions for better information on everything. We're hoping he comes up with older medical books, ones we can use for better herbal medicines."
Tomás laughed. "Ah, Holden and his brilliant minds! His envoy came to visit us a few months ago and we arranged to trade with his community. It was a wonderful visit. He was much impressed with what we accomplished here, though he did have some suggestions." He smiled widely. "I'll not bother you with the details, but scaling up a community is a daunting task. It's easy to live in small groups, but larger groups take more maintenance and much more protection from outside threats."
After a few minutes Shelly asked, "How many people are in your city? It seems large, but not crowded."
Tomás smiled at her. "You're right. Originally there were about thirty of us. With thirty people you know everyone, of course. You personally know who is honest and dishonest, who will work hard, who is good with plants and who is good with animals." Tomás had a faraway look. "Those were good days, except that we often had to fight off bands of marauding Zs and, worse, bands of humans."
"And now?" Shelly reached up and took his free arm since Maddie chose to walk apart from Tomás.
Tomás patted her small hand. "Now we have over three thousand. I know each person by sight, but my personal knowledge of them is limited. I have team leaders who report to me."
Nancy kept her face completely blank. "I don't see any old people here."
His smile faltered. "It is a hard life. Often the old are not able to survive the harsh winters or some of the diseases we still fight." He looked hard at Nancy, his smile once again wide and charming. "Quite perceptive of you, Nancy."
Tomás continued the tour of his city, now addressing Shelly more often, smiling and trading anecdotal stories of New Pueblo with her. Shelly hung on every word. Nancy remained silent, but her eyes never stayed still, roving from street to street. Nancy glanced behind her, where the old man followed, his eyes sharp and the shotgun ready.
"Who is the old man?" she asked. "And why does he need a shotgun in your own city?"
Tomás smiled pleasantly. "He's my father. He's immune, fortunately, though not a vampire. He is getting along in years, but he is my constant companion here in the city." The smile widened. "And you might not be able to tell, but he is also my fiercest bodyguard. We don't need protection within the walls, of course, but he insists."
"He does look fierce." Shelly smiled at Tomás, leaning toward him.
Tomás leaned toward Shelly. "While I was sick, Papá barricaded us in a small wooden tool shed for two days. He went outside to gather water, even though infected Zs surrounded us. During his last trip for water they bit him. Fortunately I had recovered somewhat by then, so I fought them off and protected him."
"You're lucky he didn't turn," Nancy said, her brown eyes looking down a side street.
Tomás looked at her for a moment. "Yes, I am. I prepared myself for the possibility, of course. I prayed for guidance. I still had some fever, and dozed off and on, but during one fevered sleep I had a dream. I mixed my own blood in some water and gave it to my father. His fever passed and he recovered, though not with my abilities."
Maddie moved next to Nancy and spoke softly. "It isn't the same, Nancy. Your husband and daughters were already turned. We don't know of anything that can help at that point."
"I know. Still," Nancy's brown eyes sparkled with unshed tears, "there is a certain pain that never leaves you when you have to kill someone you love."
The old man looked at her and whispered softly, but loud enough for everyone to hear, "Yes, señora, there is a pain that sits in your heart forever. I, myself, had to destroy the demon who wore the face of my son's mother." He looked at Tomás's back as they walked. "We had no choice, you and I. The ache fades but never leaves." A tiny smile crossed his craggy features. "Wine sometimes helps, señora." His eyes shone in the sun.
"How do you power everything in such a large city, Tomás? Your electricity requirements must be huge…" Shelly touched the back of Tomás's right hand with her fingers.
Tomás grinned broadly, gesturing to his domain. "It was a trial in the beginning. Over the years, we extended New Pueblo to the north and the west, so that we can get access to the river and easier access to the substations for the wind turbine farm."
Shelly's eyebrows shot up. "Wind farm?"
Tomás laughed. "It was a big project outside Pueblo. I think they built it in 2003 or so. It was at risk with the collapse of Enron, but I was young at the time and didn't think much of it. We have one of the original engineers here in the city and he was an integral part of getting the turbines up and running. He ran the project to get the power to our gated community here."
"Sounds like quite a guy." Maddie chimed in. "How much power do you get from the wind turbines? Do they take much maintenance?"
"Oh, I think the idea was to power a half million homes, but I don't know what the final numbers were. We don't get anywhere near that kind of power, but it provides our needs. We rely on batteries in some homes, of course, but I have to confess we are having a hard time finding replacements."
"We have the same issues," Maddie said. "We can use car batteries, but they wear out fast. We're running into a disposal problem for the old batteries, but Hemanth said he had a solution for both problems."
Tomás leaned forward. "Hemanth didn't mention that to me when we spoke last. He did tell me he had some new wind turbines, BATs, I think he called them." Tomás waved at the sky. "BATs float above the city. How amazing is that?" He shook his head. "We lost contact with Hemanth about six weeks ago, though. I've sent two teams up to Fort Collins and neither reported back yet."
Maddie started. "We sent someone up there today, I think."
Tomás looked grave. "Well, I hope he is a capable man. My teams were reliable, and it concerns me that I haven't heard from them."
Maddie said nothing, though her stomach flip-flopped.
Tomás looked at his father. "Papá," he said, "I think we will go back and have some wine with our visitors."
"Certainly, mijo," said the old man. He bowed at the younger man. "Patrón." He turned down a side street and led the way back to the mansion.
"I'm sorry we couldn't meet your engineer. We have Sam right now, but we're not sure he's going to stay." Maddie studied the ripened corn stalks across the three lawns near the mansion.
Only Nancy noticed Tomás flinch at Sam's name. He turned to Shelly and told of an incident with an automatic tilling machine that went berserk. Shelly laughed along with Tomás.
"I'm sure you ladies are thirsty after that walk. Let's sit in the living room and we'll have some refreshments. We can talk about how New Pueblo and Selah Ranch can work together for our mutual good." Tomás led them to a beautiful large living room, running the width of the house. The windows let in the afternoon sun. The floors were dark wood, polished so they gleamed. Though the room was large, the furniture layout provided different sections for smaller groups.
"We have meetings here occasionally, but most of the time I sit with a few people. We have some excellent wines," Tomás said. He waved the women to a small section of the room where chairs sat in a semi-circle. "Please have a seat, ladies, and I will get some wine."
Tomás walked to a cupboard and took out two bottles of wine. Taking four glasses he set them on the dark wood table and sat down in a chair.
He lifted the bottle of wine. "This is a good vintage. It isn't one of our own, though." He smiled apologetically. "We manage to scavenge quite a bit of liquor."
"I'm surprised," said Maddie, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. She positioned her pistol so she could reach it easily. Nancy slouched in her chair, hands folded, though her right hand stayed near the handle of her gun.
Shelly leaned forward toward Tomás. She smiled. "When we scavenge, we've found most bars and beverage stores are out of liquor. During the pandemic, people self-medicated, we think, in order to avoid the horrors."
Tomás agreed. "Yes, and there were many, many suicides as well. Once people realized that the government Zombie plan - what was it? Plan 8888?" He winked at Shelly. "The government wrote that plan in 2011." He waved his arms in the air. "Well, it failed miserably. The original infection spread too fast, symptoms appeared too late. By the time we realized we were at risk, most people had some form of the infection."
"Which is why they gave up," Maddie said. "Most people assumed they were infected. Government responses were too late. Some paramilitary outfits managed to defend small areas..." Maddie looked around. "…like this, I assume."
Tomás opened the wine and waved his father to him, whispering in his ear. The old man whispered something back, but Tomás shook his head. "Yes, Maddie, that's what happened. A military colonel from the Army reserves gathered his men and fortified these blocks of the city. You saw the original wall and barbed wire as you came in the front gate. We gathered more ammunition and weapons over the years, of course, but we're well supplied."
He smiled. "I know you are reviewing our fortifications. You should. We are well-manned and control the entrances to New Pueblo. It is a haven here, a paradise." He looked at the three women, smiling. "If you ever get tired of living in the mountains and desire some taste of civilization, please feel free to move here with us. We'd be delighted to have you. A few people over the years have joined us from Selah Ranch."
"Who would those be?" Maddie smiled as Tomás poured two glasses of wine.
"Michael Stoddard. William, Teresa, Zoey." He smiled at Maddie. "They were looking for a larger community than your little place in the mountains. If you'd like to stay longer, I can see if they can come visit you."
Maddie forced a smile. "I appreciate it. Perhaps during another visit, though."
Tomás's smile faded. "A short drink, and we can talk about our mutual benefits, then I won't keep you further from your tasks, though I have to tell you the Pueblo city stores are pretty well scavenged."
"Perhaps instead of wine, I could have a small glass of water?" Nancy sat stiffly in her chair and she forced a smile.
Tomás looked at her. "Of course." He rose in a smooth motion and walked across the wooden floor, his bright black boots making a quiet thudding sound as he moved. He whispered to his father and Tomás returned, smiling.
"What about you, Shelly? Would you care for some wine?" asked Tomás sitting back down.
Shelly's smile was tight. "Perhaps. Could you taste it for me and tell me if it's sweet? I like sweet wines…"
Tomás laughed and lifted one of the small glasses of wine, sipping it. "Will that do, Shelly? It isn't poisoned, I assure you."
Shelly's ears reddened and she took the wine, sipping it. She smiled at Tomás. "Thanks. It is quite good."
"And you, Maddie? Are you concerned about poison as well?"
Maddie grinned at Tomás. "None of us are stupid, Tomás. We have to be careful." She motioned to his father, who entered the room with a pitcher of water. "But I'll have water, if that's okay with you."
"Of course." Tomás smiled at her and poured two glasses of wine, setting one near Maddie. "If you change your mind, however…" He drank from his glass of wine. "It's quite good and quite safe." He laughed.
Nancy took a glass of water from the old man and thanked him, but raised her eyebrows. He poured some water from the pitcher into a glass and gave it to Tomás, who obligingly drank. "All safe, Nancy. Please help yourself." Nancy watched him over the rim of her glass.
Tomás smiled at the three women. "Here's to a long and prosperous relationship!" He drained his glass, his head tilted back. Maddie watched him finish the wine then drank her water, setting the empty glass down on the coffee table. Tomás offered more wine to Shelly, who took another small glass. Nancy's now empty glass sat on the table, but she waved away a refill.
Tomás made some conversation about sharing technologies, though most of his innovations were also from the Fort Collins community. Maddie smiled at Tomás. "I'm sorry Tomás. I can see where your lovely city has much we could use, but we don't have anything to trade, except perhaps horses."
"Ah, and horses would be wonderful. Selah Ranch is famous for the marvelous horses they tame for so many communities. As our vehicles become harder to maintain, we think that horses would provide an excellent method of travel."
Maddie looked at Shelly and Nancy and her eyebrows shot up. They were sound asleep sitting up in their chairs, empty glasses on the table between them. Maddie started to get up from her seat, but Tomás grasped her arm and held her tightly.
"Please sit down, Maddie. There were some things I wanted to speak with you about and I did not wish for your two friends to hear."
Maddie wrenched her arm away and took a deep breath, steadying herself. She forced herself to sit down. "What did you do to them?" she growled.
Tomás waved a hand negligently. "Merely a sleeping potion. It does not affect Vampires. Trust me."
"The last thing I might consider doing since you drugged them," Maddie said through clenched teeth.
"I understand, but the things I need to discuss with you pertain to vampires only," said Tomás.
Maddie fingered the pistol strapped to her leg and considered the odds. Tomás smiled at her. "If you try hurting me, one of your friends might come to harm. I certainly would not like that." She lifted her hand and placed it back on her lap.
Tomás noticed the movement. "Thank you," he said. "I realize you have no reason to trust me, and even less so now, so I'll be as brief as possible. But first," he rose smoothly from his seat and beckoned to her. "I'd like to introduce you to some important people."
Maddie didn't rise. "I won't leave my friends, especially like this."
"Of course. That was thoughtless of me," said Tomás smoothly. "But we won't leave this house, I promise, and we'll be right back." His eyes grew dark. "It is important, Maddie, because you need to meet the children."
Maddie stood. "Children?"
"Yes. My children." Maddie's eyes widened as she followed Tomás through the open double doors of the sitting room.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
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