The going was tough, if you’ve never been in the woods in the South during the hot of the year then you will never truly get how miserable this can be. It’s almost like walking non-stop in a shower, heat, dampness, it all blends into one long wet march. You’d think you’d welcome rain but you don’t because you just know that one, that brings out the bugs and two, it just means it’s going to be even more humid afterwards. As we made our way into the forest, no breeze stirred and that just made things almost beyond bearable. You do get used to it but I don’t think you ever learn to like it really.
I watched Culsit as he slid from tree to tree, it didn’t seem to bother him but then again, he wouldn’t say a word if it did. I thought back to the days when my ancestors walked this same land when it was just as wild and without any of the things we all took for granted not so long ago. I’ve heard the argument that they didn’t know any different but they did know hot and cold and I wondered right then if they thought the same thoughts that I was thinking right now about the heat.
I shook my head, trying to get my thoughts to stop drifting and to focus on the task at hand. I turned and glanced at Vali just yards behind me. Something Culsit said before we left camp made me wonder, he said that he had never seen Vali, yet he had, for years. I could see her for who she was but he couldn’t. Maybe he still had blinders of sorts over his eyes like I used have to before my trip home, maybe he just couldn’t see her true self. Enough! I thought to myself. I would have to start concentrating more, less of this mind fog I seemed to be drifting in.
It was then that I realized that I had stopped and sat down on a fallen tree. I didn’t even realize I had sat down, strange, I started to wonder what was wrong with me. It was then that Vali came and eased down beside me and handed me a slice of deer that Jager and Rory had dried while they all waited for us at the camp we just left.
“You need to eat John. I can tell by your walk that your hungry, wether you know it or not.” She said.
I began to chew and almost instantly started to feel better. I chuckled, funny how in the movies, the good guys never got hungry or tired. How did she know? I thought. I was going to ask her but as I turned to her, she was chewing and looking at me. I thought it best to just leave it alone. I probably didn’t want to know how she knew anyway. I don’t know how to put into words what I was feeling right then. I mean, I have heard the cheesy line of getting lost in someones eyes but this was different. This was like she was looking past my skin, and right into my soul. Right to who I really was. I was started to think on the lines of her face and the flecks of gold in her eyes when as usual the big fur bag ruined it all for me.
“Didn’t see a thing for at least a half of a mile John.” Culsit said as he sat down on the other side of me and started chewing some jerky himself.
Now I was a little irritated with him for interrupting my thoughts but I was more mad at myself for not noticing him coming up to us. I just turned to look at him.
“You have to get your mind right little brother! This isn’t a stroll in the park with your girlfriend, serious business this.” He said with a grin.
“Shut up! I know I do, I knew you was coming.”
“Liar! I could have eaten you both before you knew it!”
“You eating people now?” I grinned as I look at him.
“Well, maybe her, not you, too gamey!” He chuckled and snorted as he rocked back on the log so hard it started to shift.
I was about to make a reply that would get Vali involved when I noticed Culsit whip his head around and stare off to the West. His ears are better than mine because he was responding to hearing a knock that I could barely make out. In fact, if he hadn’t reacted the way he did, I don’t think I would have paid it much attention. I know it was a knock but from this distance it sounded more like a lone woodpecker strike against a far away tree. That made me wonder how many times when I was a kid I thought the same thing, it’s just a woodpecker. Culsit stood and found two rocks near the foot of the tree we sat on where it had fallen. When he struck them together, it sounded to me like a crack of a gunshot.
“Whats up Culsit?” Vali asked. I strained to hear the response. It wasn’t just the number of knocks that let you know the message but also the timing between them. Never fast enough so that you could tell it wasn’t made by nature. I listened and watched Culsit as he watched me, when the echo of knocks rang back.
“Jager and Rory just passed a farm with people on it.” I replied as Culsit nodded in agreement. I had forgotten that Rory had wanted to go with Jager, I think it still made him nervous being around me after I thought him a traitor.
“Where?” She asked. I help a hand up to keep listening. More knocks echoed in slowly.
Culsit made one more clap of stone that split the air as it raced back towards Jager.
“About 5 miles and just on top of the mountain. Smoke from a fire and the smell of food cooking. Lights from lanterns burning and two standing watch. One on the roof of a barn and another in a tree stand just inside the tree line.” Culsit said as he laid the stones down gently.
“You guys can tale all of that from knocks?” She asked with more than a bit of skepticism.
“Well, yes, and more I think he said they had soup on, vegetable I believe.” Culsit said and I began to laugh while shaking my head.
“You’re both jerks!” She said as she punched me in the shoulder.
“Ouch! He said it, not me!” I continued to quietly laugh.
“We have traveled, what, 30 miles?” I asked while looking at Culsit. “I’m surprised those people are still alive.”
“Maybe they found an empty farm and stayed, I bet they haven’t been there long being just miles from the enemy.” Culsit said as he looked in that direction.
“I guess we are going to talk to then?” Vali asked.
Culsit didn’t speak, he just nodded his head and took off. We followed right behind, running and dripping with sweat.
It took over two hours to just cover those miles. Even thought the enemy didn’t seem to be in this area right now, I still didn’t feel comfortable just flat running up one ridge and down the next making enough noise to basically send a signal telling where we happened to be.
As we drew close, I motioned for Culsit to circle to the back of the clearing the house and barn seemed to be placed in and to wait for me to show myself. He knew to stay out of sight unless the situation went wrong. There was no need to scare people more than was necessary.
Vali circled with him, so I gave them about ten minutes before I started moving to where I could see the watcher sitting up in a tree just right where the mountain sloped off. He appeared to be a younger guy, maybe late twenties and he was looking out over the trees kind of haphazardly. I did the slow crawl, almost silent move up to the base of the tree he sat in. I watched a minute as he sat there and looked at the old single shot shotgun be had cradled in his arms. I thought a minute on how to show myself to him without getting shot. I decided to ease over to a large oak next to him and get behind it before I called out to him.
“Hey friend, don’t shoot, you see any trouble out there?” I asked calmly.
He about fell out of the tree when I spoke but recovered quickly and swung that long barrel in my direction. I chanced a peak and could tell his finger was on the trigger.
“Show yourself! Who are you?” He hissed.
“My name is John and I’ll come out when your finger is off that trigger!” I replied.
“I aint putting down this gun!”
“No, I wouldn’t either but you can take that finger off that bang switch. I don’t much feel like getting shot tonight.”
“All right, come on out! Keep you hands where I can see them!”
I chanced another quick glance and indeed he had moved the gun more toward the sky but his finger was still on that trigger. I decided to risk it. I couldn’t spend all night arguing about it. I exposed half my body from behind the tree.
“Hands mister!” He said as I watched his body tense. This seemed to be a new experience for him. Hunting deer was one thing, hunting something that could hunt you back was a totally new game for him, I could tell. I moved as slow as ice, I didn’t want his nervousness to get the best of him. I wasn’t nervous about buying it here this night, but I didn’t relish the thought of that shot screaming at me either.
“Easy there, son, I am just passing by and wanted to talk to you guys.”
“About the danger you are in from the people that are not far off. I mean you no harm.”
“How do I know that? How do I know you just want to talk as you say?” He replied and shifted in the tree.
“Because if I had wanted to harm you, you’d be dead already and I sure wouldn’t have ever spoken. Come on down and let’s go up to the house and talk.” I replied.
“Turn around while I come down and don’t move.”
I did as he asked but even though I wasn’t looking, my ears peaked at every sounds as he came down, just listening for the slightest thing out of place. I stood there and listening as he walked up behind me. He reached to grab my shoulder and that is when I struck, just as he his hand reached out, I ducked and twisted, grabbing the gun barrel and throwing my hip to knock him off balance. I jerked the gun back and up in case his finger was still on the trigger and in case it went off. It was a gamble but it worked and before he hit the ground, I had the barrel broke open and the shell in my hand.
“See, I mean you no harm but you have got to calm down a little bit before you start to get on my nerves.” I said as I placed the shotgun still open over my shoulder and offered him a hand to help him up.
His face was red and I could see the anger glaring back at me but I just looked down at him and smiled. If he knew what I could really do he would be thankful I just planted him on his rear. He slapped my hand away and stood up dusting the dead leaves off himself.
“Give me my gun back!”
“Shut up and start walking, you’re to twitchy right now.” I said as I pointed him towards the house.
As we cleared the trees I glanced towards the barn and the person on top of it. I knew they couldn’t see us yet in the dark but I could see them by using the tricks I had picked up from Culsit and Jager. We stopped in the front yard when he called to the house and all hell broke loose. People spilled out of the door, I kept an eye on them and also on the one coming down from the barn. I didn’t see anyone else armed, not even the one coming from the barn. I held up my hands and motioned like I was wanting them to stop moving, they must have thought I was signaling it to them but really it was for Culsit and Vali to wait.
“Oh we are moving mister!” One of them spoke as be came off the porch pulling a Glock from under his shirt and pointing it right at my face. I just stood there and let him approach, all the while scanning the others for weapons but none appeared. All I could do was think to let him get just a little closer but I quickly reminded myself that I wasn’t here to cause harm to them but to help. I could tell by all of their body language, none knew what they were doing, this was just as new to them as it had been for me not that long ago.
“You all right?” He said looking at the one I had taken out of the tree.
“Fine! Now get my gun from him!” He exclaimed.
“Why did you let him take it!” The new stranger with the Glock said as he reached for the shotgun. I just leaned my shoulder so he could grab it.
“Because he didn’t have a choice. It’s not his fault really.” I said with a smile.
“You son of a….” He started to say with hate but before he realized what was happening I had him in a chock hold from behind with his own gun pointed at his temple. My thought was probably the same as his right at that moment, how in the world had I just done that. I didn’t think, it was like by muscles went on autopilot.
“Easy everybody, I’m not here for trouble, I’m trying to help you.” I said calmly all the while shielding myself with loudmouth here.
“See, that’s how I lost my shotgun, he’s fast and crazy.”
“Look, Im trying to help you people. You need to leave here and get as far north as fast as you can. Take what you can carry and run for it.” I replied.
“You just want our stuff!” The one I held at gunpoint growled.
“No, if I wanted your stuff, it would be mine already. Now, I’m going to let you go. Don’t any of you be stupid or I will end every last one of you.” I said with a menace as I looked at the four others standing before me.
I released him while at the same dropping the magazine and racking the round out of the chamber. I held out his empty pistol as he whipped around to face me.
“I should drop you right her and now mister!” He screamed. I just stood there and smiled.
He snatched the pistol from my hand and started to reach for his waist.
“Bud, if you grab a magazine, I’ll split you in two right here. I’m just trying to save you people. The enemy that caused all these problems are just a few miles away and when I get done with them, if any make it past me, they might just make sure to take care of every last one of you.” I replied calmly.
“We can handle ourselves, if you think we are leaving this house just so you can take it, you’re nuts! You’re just after our food!”
As I looked around, they all had the same nod going. I knew then, it was pointless, these people weren’t going to budge. Fine! When the time comes I can say I tried.
“Have it y’alls way, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I said as I started to turn and walk away.
“Where are you going? We didn’t tell you that you could leave!” The one with the pistol yelled at me.
I slowly turned back to face them all and just started to laugh.
“Look, I’m leaving, the only question is how many of you want to die trying to stop me?”
“Mister, you’re all alone, you have nothing but two axes, I don’t think you have much say in this.” He replied.
I just nodded my head and at that point I heard the thump on the roof. Culsit had jumped up above them onto the roof and Vali came walking out of the darkness behind me, which surprised even me. She must have circled back around during all of my speech giving.
“Oh, I’m not alone.” At that moment Culsit released a growl so low and loud you could feel it in your chest, vibrating the air in your lungs.
The look on their faces changed from one of malice and anger to pure fear.
“Like I said,” I calmly spoke,”I’m leaving and if you’re smart, you would also.”
I turned to walk away and they all just stood, frozen in place, watching with open mouths as Vali and I melted into the darkness. I knew Culsit had made his exit already because I could hear him coming back around towards where we stood. He was actually making noise on purpose, it sounded like a bull coming, shaking trees over 30 feet tall and growling. To be honest, it even made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I could only imagine what it was doing to those people back at that house.
“You like that little brother?” Culsit chuckled as he walked up to us.
“Yeah! I did, you even made me jump a little and that little rampage in the trees scared me a little!” I said with a little fake chuckle.
“See, don’t make me mad.” He grinned and leaned down towards me, I thumped him on his forehead and laughed.
“You ladies ready to get down to Jager? These people are a lost cause. They have become so paranoid and paralyzed with fear I don’t think there is anything that we could do to help them.” I said.
“Yeah, let’s get down to the bottom and find some water, I’m parched.” Culsit said.
“Yup.” Came her reply as she grinned ear to ear and adjusted her gear, I knew she was getting ready for what was to come. I guess we all were in a way, it’s just I knew the outcome of it. It might take some cuts and bruises on my part but there was no doubt about what I was about to unleash and I think she knew it. She had seen it before, on enemies long gone and no doubt on many more to come. Culsit just shook leaves and limbs of the trees he had busted up off of him like a dog would water, not a care in the world, at least none that showed.
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If you liked this chapter, you might want to head over to Amazon and buy yourself a copy of “The Enemy”. The exciting first book in this series so you can see how our friends got into this kind of bind.
all photos courtesy of Kathys Kreations™