The James John Daniels Stories, Story Seven: Prepared Her for Life
When Jenny was ten years old, her father came home with a box of parts and the frame to a dirt bike. Together they built the bike from the ground up, sparing no details. Her parents wanted to make sure she knew what she was doing and how everything worked. They wanted Jenny to be prepared for life, to be self-reliant. When they were done, she had a small bike she could run around on at a time when her peers were still on regular pedal bikes. When it was time, her mother didn’t give her the regular birds and bees talk, her mother showed her videos of live births and gave her graphic and anatomically accurate accounts of human sexuality and the possible consequences. Her mother told her she never wanted her to be a victim of false information, rumor, and speculation. On her thirteenth birthday, her father took her to a junkyard.
Starting the Truck
Jenny opened the hood of a truck that sat in the Smyths barn. She checked all the belts, the oil, and other fluids. Using a portable jump starter, she hooked up the battery and let it charge as she checked the tires looking for any visible problems. She could feel the youngest of the Smyth daughters Tina watch her work. Jenny was always surprised to meet people who didn’t take an active role in the essential functions of life. Her parents made sure she knew how everything worked and how not to panic when something went wrong. Here was a perfectly serviceable truck with a dead battery. Instead of charging it, they let it sit and remained stranded until their older sister Anette came home in her two-seat Miata. The jump starter was done, and she started the truck. After a quick test, she knew the alternator was good, and it was just a battery left too long in the cold.
Anette was far from incapable. She worked as a nurse for a county service seeing to people who couldn’t get out to see a doctor. In many ways, she acted like a doctor dispensing information rather than medication. As a nurse practitioner, she could prescribe medication, but with the rampant overuse of drugs, especially opioids, she was reluctant to do so. The DEA was investigating more than a few of her colleagues for overprescribing pain meds. She just never took an interest in auto mechanics. She said, “yeah, and I never learned how to weave my cloth ether, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to dress.” Anette was going to stay with Jimmy and tend to his wounds, making sure he stayed asleep. The fourteen-year-old Julie and the youngest of the sisters Tina would go with Jenny on her trip into town for the portable MRI and ultrasound equipment.
Jenny’s father showed her around the junkyard, explaining what every part did and how everything was connected. Just when she thought this was one of her father’s many field trips, they stopped in front of an old Jeep. It was a 1980 Jeep CJ-7 Laredo. Her father had bought it so they could strip it down and rebuild it from the tires up. The project would take years, with him being deployed as often as he was. Her father, General Jessie James Jackson, was one of the highest-ranked officers in the Air Force and often away. Her mother was a doctor working her way up the ladder at a hospital in Huston. Just before the world ended, her father was set to retire, and they would live as a family again. Together they sat and ordered the parts they would need to build what was to be her first vehicle.
A Manual Transmission
Jenny got behind the wheel, happy to see it was a manual transmission. She could drive both, but she preferred stick and the feeling she had more control over how the vehicle operated. They would take the four-wheel-drive truck just in case they had to go off-road to evade any deer. The large MRI truck they would be driving back wouldn’t have any problems mowing down herds of deer, but the Miata would be like trying to hit a fastball with a whiffle bat. Tina sat next to her, and like all that morning, she watched everything she did. Jenny wasn’t sure if this was just fascination, or did Anette tell her to watch the stranger. Julie sat next to the door with an AR-15 with a suppressor taking up most of the barrel. She called it her father’s truck gun and said how it was most likely illegal. Jenny watched her, noting how she knew how to hold the rifle.
Anette and her sisters were all named for female actors who became prominent in the 1960s. Julie told her how her parents had this plan. Their mother would name any girls and their father any boys. They never had any brothers, but that didn’t seem to bother their father. Much like Jenny, the sisters were raised to respect and understand the world around them. Their father was a fifth-generation farmer working the land his great-great-grandfather cleared way back in the 1800s. The day-to-day operations of the farm were being run by the second oldest of the sisters Sandra Dee, and she was going to carry on her family’s legacy taking over the land with her wife, Jennifer. When the world ended, Jennifer went to town to help and never came back. They searched for her, finding a note she left at the hospital saying she was sorry, but she had to go home to her family. Sandra Dee kept to herself and did her usual chores as if nothing had happened. Tina said how Sandy would spend hours in the barn talking to the horses, and she was convinced she heard the horses talking back.
Learning to Drive
The big day arrived. A new crate motor for the Jeep, the last component needed. They spent his previous time home stripping the Jeep sending the body out to be bead-blasted stripping off the paint while they cleaned and accounted for every part. They wanted to save as much of the original parts as they could without risking her safety. The body didn’t have as much rust as they thought and only required a little bodywork, but that was the one thing her father let someone else do. He told her next car they would do it all. Together, they mounted the transmission and bolted it into the Jeep. By the end of the week, they started it for the first time. The engine was bright orange, as well as the body. The interior was white and covered in a neoprene car seat for easy cleanup. At fourteen, her father started to teach her how to drive. She would drive around the base, staying away from the outside and her underage driving.
Along the way, Jenny showed Julie how to drive the truck. She did her best knowing Julie would be following her as she powered what was described as a massive truck with the MRI back acting as a linebacker clearing the path for the truck. Julie didn’t seem interested in the instruction watching the road rather than the gears. Tina watched everything, but Jenny didn’t think she was tall or strong enough at age twelve to work the clutch. They passed packs of deer that at first seemed to be asleep, but on passing were dead. Many of them seemed to drop dead with no visible wounds. In the distance, they could see smoke. The closer they got, the worse it all appeared. Much of the town was gone. A fire seemed to have gutted the town starting somewhere on the east side with the most ruins to the west with only some minimal damage.
Bad became worse. The hospital was nearly burned to the ground. The MRI truck was scorched, with flat tires and a cab burned to nothing. The machine was toast. They searched the rubble, finding a way into the basement. Jenny went into the dark hole alone just in case there was something even more dangerous than an unsafe structure under a collapsed building. There she found a portable ultrasound as well as some medical supplies. She passed up the supplies and the machine to the others as they loaded the truck. On the way out of town, they stopped at every store and restaurant, taking anything they could fit into the truck. Julie said, “I doubt we’re coming back to town any time soon.”
Somewhere just outside of town, Jenny switched seats with Julie, and she showed her how to drive the truck working the gears. Along the way, she wondered if this was how her father felt teaching her. At first, Julie stalled the truck a few times, but by the time they got back to the farm, Julie was barely grinding the gears. Jenny thought about the look on her mother’s face when she got on the plane to go to what was supposed to be her father’s final tour and then the look on her father’s face when she drove away with the men supposed to guard them. They had prepared her for life in such a way that she should be able to take care of herself, but that didn’t stop her from missing them.
A few days later, Jimmy woke. He struggled against the restraints they put on him to keep him from moving and ripping the delicate stitches on his back. Annette did her best to remove any shrapnel, and from what she could tell, the damage was more superficial than anything else, but they wouldn’t know until he woke and moved. Jimmy looked around and saw Jenny sitting next to him. She leaned in and kissed his cheek. She said, “you’re right; we are together.” Jimmy asked how bad it was. Jenny reached under his blanket and took hold of him. Jimmy jumped against the restraints. Jenny said, “well, I’m guessing you can feel that, so it’s not as bad as we thought……... you might want not to go shirtless anymore.” Jimmy asked, “we?” Jenny smiled and said, “yes, me, Anette Funicello, Julie Newmar, Sandra Dee, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Tina Louise.” Jimmy turned his head and asked, “what?”
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© 2019 Michael Collins aka Lakemoron