Friday, August 9, 2013
Posted by Jonathan Martin
Peter stalked through the tall grass, the man that had been following them no more than a hundred yards in front of him, oblivious to his presence. He had stayed low the entire trek back to where the man was, creeping through the tall grasses and hiding in a small ditch as the man had approached lose by at one point. Now Peter was behind the man, sneaking closer. He had closed the gap by thirty feet the next time he risked a prolonged glance, and diminished it again by another thirty the next time he had popped up. Another fifteen feet and Peter popped up with his gun ready, but the man ducked just as Peter pulled the trigger.
“Peter,” Came the voice from his nightmares. “Is that any way to treat me? I am just making sure you remain safe.”
“Safe? Is that what you call burning places down around us?”
“That? Those were misunderstandings. I was just trying to keep you moving.” The Other stood up and Peter realized he had been closer than he thought. He could smell the unwashed man, could see the stains upon his clothes. Could see the fire burning in the man’s eyes.
“Moving huh? Let’s see you move!” Peter fired and blood blossomed upon the man’s chest as the bullet tore through his right shoulder. “Where’s my jersey, anyways?” Peter asked. The flames died for a moment in the man’s eyes and then resurged.
“That? Oh, I still have it. I’ll bring it with me to Boulder City. I’ll see you there.” The flames leapt from his eyes, catching his hair and shirt on fire. Quickly spreading to his pants, it was not long before the man was fully engulfed in flames. It was then that Peter noticed the lack of sound. Flames crackled, but the man was silent, accepting his fate as the fire consumed him. It was only at the last minute that the writhing body began to cackle, before falling to the ground and remaining still, silent.
Peter nudged the smoldering corpse with his foot, but it did not move. Shuddering, he moved away from the body, back towards his companions. He ran through the fields and soon could make their forms out cresting a hill. He jogged along and was soon cresting the same hill. Unable to shake the feeling he was still being watched, Peter stopped atop the rise and looked around.
A dark form knelt down over the burnt corpse and then moved away, carry a bulging back a few steps before disappearing into the grass. At least that’s what Peter’s brain tried to reason, despite the fact that the man had walked no more than five feet and then just vanished. Shaking his head, Peter ran on to rejoin his friends.
“Hey,” he said as he caught up with Brian, who was bringing up the rear.
“Hey. We heard the shot, you get him?”
“Do you think I would’ve come back if I hadn’t?” Peter winked at the young man.
“Here,” Zach said, handing the obol back to Peter, who replaced it in his wallet.
“Welcome back,” Amy squeezed his hand again before returning to her cart.
“Ok, who needs a break?” Peter asked, and had half a dozen takers.
“Fine, lets get over this next hill and we’ll stop. I want to make another few miles today. We’re doing great today.” He took the wagon handle from Kyle and began to pull it up the hill. Twenty minutes later, and all of them were sitting in the damp grass beside the road.
“Was there only one?” Sarah asked, chewing on a stalk of grass.
“Yeah, I got him on the first try too.” He lied, trying to push the mad cackling from his head.
They made it another three miles before dusk. A quick meal of beef jerky and what turned out to be baked beans followed the now habitual gathering of firewood and setting up of the tents.
“Who’s night for watch duty is it?” Sarah asked, fingering the gun on her hip.
“I’ve got first watch,” Brian said, “Unless someone wants to trade,” He grinned, pulling Chris’ old guitar from it’s resting spot atop the cart. Plucking it’s strings mindlessly, no one took him up on his offer to trade. “Damn, thought so.”
“I guess it’s my turn then for second shift,” Peter said after no one else spoke up.
“No,” Amy said, you’ve had the last three nights. “It’s someone else’s turn. Besides, you’ve done enough today.” She smiled at him as she said it.
“I guess it’s my turn,” Kyle said, drawing a laugh from everyone.
“No, but it’s been a while since I’ve taken a turn.” His mother responded.
“But mom,” whined Kyle.
“Fine,” moped Kyle.
Peter looked at Zach, who inked at him. He motioned for him to come closer, and once the two of them were face to face, Peter whispered, “Would you, I mean, do you think it would be alright-“
“Stop, just stop. Do you need help setting up the other tent?” Zach said out loud, laughing.
“No,” Peter burst out, red in the face.
Amy glared at the two of them and then laughed. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Peter said, but he was already rummaging in his cart for the unopened tent. He found it and quickly pitched it, beside the one Zach and Brian would share without him.
“What’s this all about?” Asked Amy, coming up and putting her arms around Peter.
“I just don’t want to sleep alone tonight,” Peter said, the cackle still echoing in his head.