Authors: C. A. Henry
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Contemporary Fiction
Kiamichi Survival Series
Kiamichi Refuge: Book 1 of the Kiamichi Survival Series
Copyright 2016 by Carol A. Madding
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in print or electronic form without prior permission of the author.
over art by Hristo Kovatliev
Graphics by Cassandra N. Bailey
Editing by Hope Springs Editing
So much goes into writing a book that few people could do it alone and still do it well. I know I certainly couldn’t, so I wish to thank my four beta readers: Jack Madding for being a sounding board for a lot of crazy ideas, Laura Gibson for her eagle eye, Richard Dennis for his expertise in firearms, and Scott Kenney who was on board from the start and also provided technical assistance. What Scott doesn’t already know about computers, he will figure out. I could not have managed without his help. All of them offered valuable suggestions, most of which I took, and encouraged me throughout the process.
In Loving Memory of
The Lodge Overview
First Floor of the Lodge
Second Floor of
The Town of Kanichi Springs
Population Before the Collapse: 472
Wheeling her compact car into the driveway, Erin Miller jumped out and was running toward the door before she even thought to turn off the engine. Then kindly Mr. Hamlin stepped out onto the porch, and she realized from the look on his face that she was already too late.
“Erin, I’m so sorry. He’s gone,” the tall, lanky old gentleman whispered.
“What happened? I was here for his birthday only last month, and he seemed fine. I spoke with him just last week. He sounded tired, but not sick,” Erin asked, bewildered. “He can’t be gone. He just can’t.”
Leading Erin to the chairs on her uncle’s front porch, Mr. Hamlin then went to Erin’s car and turned it off. He returned, bringing her the keys, and sat down beside her.
“The cancer came back. He didn’t want you to worry, so he kept it to himself. He spent the last few months finishing his book and getting ready to die. Somehow, he managed to fool most people right up until about two weeks ago. That’s when the pain got really bad and his doctor insisted on in-home hospice care. There were two nurses with him at the end.”
The elderly attorney ran his fingers through his thick white hair, then patted Erin’s hand. “He was on morphine and slept almost all the time the last few days.”
“I’ll have to make arrangements for a memorial service,” Erin muttered, as reality began to set in.
“As soon as the oncologist told him that the cancer had already spread, Ernie planned for all of that. Erin, he loved you so much that he took care of everything ahead of time. The only decision that you and the funeral director have to make is when the service will be. Flowers, casket, music, and all the rest are picked out and paid for. After the service, you and I need to meet to discuss the estate. Ernie took care of that, too.”
Mr. Hamlin stayed behind after the other mourners left Ernie Miller’s home in the small town of Kanichi Springs, Oklahoma. Almost everyone in town, as well as several people from faraway places, had attended the service, and many had come by the house to visit with Erin afterwards. The ladies from the church provided light refreshments and stayed to serve tea and coffee. Erin was in such a stunned haze of grief that she could hardly function, and she knew she would not remember later who had come to the service, if not for the guestbook they had signed.
Erin had held up fairly well through the funeral, but just barely managed not to fall apart as people offered their condolences after the service ended. She looked beautiful even in her grief, wearing a sage green suit rather than black. Green was Ernie’s favorite color, and she wore it to honor his life.
Erin invited Mr. Hamlin into the study, where Ernie had researched and written most of his books. The walls were lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with hundreds of volumes. Ernie’s big oak desk sat in the middle, facing the window, and Erin ran her hand across its surface as though touching it could give her a connection to her uncle.
They reminisced briefly about the many practical jokes that Ernie had played over the years, and talked about the many trips that he and Erin had taken together. They had toured Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and spent Christmas in Hawaii a few times. Then Mr. Hamlin cleared his throat and asked, “Are you ready to discuss the estate?”
Erin nodded, smoothing the sleek French twist that held her long, auburn hair off her face. She knew that no matter how long she lived, she would never stop missing her uncle. He had been her only living relative for almost twenty years, and he had meant the world to her.
“Your uncle left a considerable bequest to charity, specifically, the church here in town and several Christian children’s homes. Everything else, including the royalties from his books, goes to you. He gave me a letter to give you,” the lawyer added, as he handed Erin a white envelope.
Erin took the envelope, holding it with her slender fingers. She closed her eyes for a long moment, then opened the letter.
My sweet girl,
You are going to be angry with me, I believe, because I didn’t tell you that I was sick again. I just couldn’t stand to tell you that the cancer was back, and have it ruin our time together when you came down for my birthday. I wanted one last happy time with you before the worst came, and I wanted a great memory for you to hold onto whenever you think of me.
I hope that you know how much I have always loved you. You are more like a daughter to me than a niece. Even if we had had lots of other family, you would have still been my favorite. You made my life fuller and richer, and anything I did for you was done out of love.
There are many things that I want to leave to you, and one last request. Mr. Hamlin will tell you about the first. The request is that you finish the editing work on my last book and get it out there as soon as possible. Maybe it will help someone in the hard days that are coming.
Always know that you were the best part of my life. I’ll be waiting for you. Take care, and God bless.
Sadness filled Erin’s throat as tears streamed down her cheeks. Mr. Hamlin finished cleaning his glasses and gestured toward the side table between the wingback chairs that sat in front of the large oak desk.
“There are some tissues, Erin, if you need them. I can tell you from experience that the pain of loss will lessen over time, but it never goes completely away. There will be times when it will just hit you out of the blue. A picture, a smell, a memory will suddenly be there, and the grief will almost overwhelm you. Give yourself time, but hold on to the good memories, and remember that Ernie was happy to do everything he did for you. He loved you very deeply, and all he talked about the last few weeks was how he wanted you to be happy. So do it, Erin. Be happy. Do what gives you joy. It’s what he wanted for you, so honor his memory by living a great life.”
When you’re ready, we’ll go over the details of your uncle’s will, and the trust, too.”
Erin pulled a few tissues out of the box and wiped her eyes, then blew her nose. Taking a long, ragged breath, she struggled to regain some composure, glancing out the window as the wind caused the shrubs outside to dance.
“You know, I had a slight suspicion the last few times that we talked, that he was keeping something from me. I’ve been down here several times in recent months. When did he know?”
“The doctors gave him the news almost a year ago,” the attorney said gently. “He didn’t want you worry or see him suffer. Erin, I am so sorry for your loss. He was a good man, the best, and I know how close you were.”
“He raised me after my parents died. Dad loved flying that old plane of his at air shows, and Mom went with him sometimes. I was in grade school when they crashed. Uncle Ernie never hesitated. He stepped in, giving up so much to take care of a young girl who was drowning in grief, and if he ever regretted taking me in, I never saw it. He even moved to Tulsa so I could stay in the same school, then when I went to college, he came back here. He always supported me in everything I did, from 4H to marching band. He took me camping, and encouraged my interest in gardening. I hope he knew how much I appreciated him.”
“I’m sure he did. He was very proud of you. He bragged about you to anyone who would listen.” Mr. Hamlin looked down at the papers he held. “He wanted the best for you, and he made certain that you’d be secure financially.”
Erin blinked back her tears. “Yes, you mentioned a trust. What trust?”
“Well, the laws being what they are, he came to me when he knew his time was limited, wanting to know how to provide for you without having so much of the estate taken up by taxes and the cost of probate and such. I advised him to put his property in trust, which does not have to go through probate court. In actuality, other than the sum of money to charity, almost everything he owned is already in your name. He made himself trustee for life, and now that he’s gone, most of his estate comes to you, to do with as you please.”
Erin looked at him questioningly. “He always tried to look ahead, to “be a good steward,” as he put it. I’m not surprised that he wanted to avoid letting the government get its hands on anything, if there was a legal way around it. He paid his taxes, but resented all the sneaky ways that the government uses to get more, even after you die.” She paused. “But I am surprised that he left it all to me. What about his lady-friend, Lillie? I would have expected him to leave something to her.”
“We discussed that. He considered leaving her a bequest, but decided not to do so. Lillie is wealthy in her own right, and she told him that she didn’t need it. She insisted that he should take care of you and not worry about her. Besides that, she has already moved to Houston to be near her son, and Ernie told her not to come to the service, to just remember him the way he was before he got sick. The properties are of no use to her. Ernie really wanted you to have those, anyway,”
“Properties, plural?” Erin looked puzzled. “I thought he just had this house.”
“Well, there is another, more recent purchase, a cabin, actually more of a hunting lodge which he purchased right before he learned that the cancer was terminal. It’s not all that far from here, but it is, from what he told me, almost hidden in the forest, with the closest neighbors a half mile away and out of sight. As long as he was able, he used it as a writing retreat. I am surprised that he didn’t tell you about it.”
“Not a word. It’s odd, isn’t it? He wasn’t in the habit of keeping secrets from me, but now I learn that he kept two huge ones for the past several months.”
“I suppose we’ll never know why. He left all of his personal property to you, including all book royalties and both of the vehicles he owned. He got out of the stock market, sold his bond holdings, and used the money to buy the lodge. What was left is in the bank, but he hoped you would get it out and buy gold and silver. You’re also the beneficiary of two life insurance policies. Because of the success of his books, you are now a moderately wealthy young woman.”
“I don’t know how I feel about this. It seems unfair that I should suddenly have things that I didn’t work to get.”
“People die every day. Rich people die, too, and they leave their wealth to their relatives. It just happens that you are Ernie’s only living relative. Don’t feel guilty about it, Erin. It’s a blessing, and Ernie wanted you to be secure and have the means to help others.”