He woke and felt an anger in the pit of his stomach. He had driven them here but he felt like he had been driven. He looked at the road. Chunks and bits like sprinkles after a bird’s meal. The dirt would be better. He looked at the tires. They had no visible holes and seemed full. He rose and his bones creaked and he walked down the dirtway weeding out sticks from the ground and bringing some back to the fire. The boy slept.
He could throw the sticks far enough. His strength was good.
He looked at the leash attached to the back of the wagon. As they had been driving forward there had been no howls and the road had just passed underneath them. Disbanded in silence against concrete. A long time ago. If not seeing meant not being then it had been a quiet death. But of course not seeing only meant the space one worked to move forward. If the boy were to fall into that orbit his death would be visible.
He roused him. Happy to see his face move and his breathing clear even in this sluggish state. He went to the car and took ketchup packets out of the bag and together they sat by the fire and sucked from them. His stomach rumbled when he saw the cartoon tomato on the packet and he thought best not to mention it. The cartoon tomato was all the boy knew of tomatoes. He never asked about the cartoon tomato or what was in the packet. To accept without question was his gift.
The man took off his shoes and cleaned the dusty bottoms. He took the boy’s and did the same. The boy asked if they were closer and he said they were.
There was a rattle up the road. Like a dump truck. They dropped the packets and put on their shoes and he grabbed the boy’s hand and pulled him along with him into the scrub brush. The sound was of a vehicle without muffler belching and clattering its way into view. A motor home crested the hill.
Rust and green ran down the side. Scraps of asbestos covered holes in the siding. Smoke fell out of the back in defecatory rolls. The car slowed and slowed and then stopped right next to the station wagon. The gears shrieked shut. They were crouched in the bushes and he put his hands on the boy’s chest and held him still. The door opened. A group waddled out. Their faces all had the odd conglomeration of features that one instantly debated which was too large or too close. Some wore gas masks. Some wore nothing at all and were attached to each other by a length of chain. They were scrawny and their ribs were clear through the skin. A blonde girl looked like the Angel Moroni. The family stood around the station wagon. It was clearly a family. Some laughed. Some kicked the tires.
He made the boy tie his shoes by motioning. He did the same.
And like that one of the largest of the group headed straight towards them. His mouth moved inwardly as he walked. Like he was absentmindedly chewing his tongue. He stared at them but did not see. He covered the forty feet between the car and the crushed foliage and he walked through the little brush in front of them and stopped. Behind them the catamites sniffed the car like hounds.
He had his gun out without knowing it. It had the sales tag on it from when he had lifted it from a dead store. The yokel stared him full in the face a yard away.
Where are you going?
Shitter was full.
Where are you going with the RV.
I dont know.
What do you meant you dont know? Bend down like you’re doing your business.
The yokel didnt bend down.
You can have my shoes.
I dont want your shoes.
That gun dont look so real. If it is, they’ll hear the shot. Be on you like flies on a rib roast.
They will. But you wont.
The boy shuffled. Dad?
How do you figure?
Because the bullet travels faster than sound. It will be in your brain before you can hear it. To hear it you will need a frontal lobe and things with names like multisynaptic lower motor neurons and basal ganglia and you wont have them anymore. They’ll just be soup.
I got a plate in my head big enough to cover it.
The yokel sighed in a parody of relaxation and squatted in an angry whisper without taking an eye off them. The smell of marijuana and dog and feces drifted over. That car’s a beaut. Look at those green walls.
He said nothing in return. No one looked.
Got the hemorrhoids. Come out here to try to sit in peace. A man waving a gun in my face. Back up in these bushes like a pig in a poke.
Over his shoulder the family had not paid attention. They were inspecting the car. They were at its hood pulling apart food from wrapped bags. If they ran he would yell and it would all be over.
What are you eating?
Bread cooked on both sides.
What are you eating?
Kool-aid stirred by my daughter’s hand.
The boy’s breathing could be heard. The man held the gun with one hand and used the other to find the boy’s chest again.
The yokel looked at him. You a doctor?
I’m not anything. I worked with food additives.
We got a daughter with no tongue. It will be worth your while.
Do I look like an imbecile to you?
I’m real glad that things are going good for you. You could help her. You could come over and we’ll feed you.
You don’t have anything to eat. Let’s go.
I aint going nowhere.
You think I wont kill you but you’re wrong. But what I’d rather do is take you up the road--
Drop me off in the middle of nowhere and leave me for dead.
--a mile or so and turn you loose. And that’s all the head start we need. You wont find us. You wont even know which way we went.
You know what I think?
What do you think.
I’d like to get something for you. Something real nice.
Quick as that he undid his belt and brought up a knife. On the hilt was an insignia of a beagle.
What do you think you’re going to do with that?
I didn’t come up here to stem the rose.
The yokel stepped and the man fired and the yokel’s head collapsed from within starting at the part of his hair. Blood came out the face. The boy did not move and his face glowed as if candlelit. He tried to pick the boy up and couldn’t and groaned and pulled him by the hand. They ran deeper into the brush. At the wagon the family moved slowly again like a parody of reacting. There was a slight hill and he ran up pulling the boy and then down the other side and kept running. He did not hear people running after them. He heard two yells. He crested another hill and turned left. The ground was ash and rock and hard to step. The boy did not speak. He looked at the boy and saw no wounds and no marks. They continued. Again no sounds behind them.
He ran out of breath and his chest hurt and the boy had turned paler and they stopped fifteen minutes later.
I cant walk Dad.
Yes you can. Breathe. He pushed the side of his shoulder and they started walking again.
What will happen to his kids?
His kids can fend for themselves.
You shouldnt have killed him we could have just ran.
Come on son. We have to go now.
They walked. Any moment the grass could part and one of them could appear. There had been an old man with a beard and hat and a rifle wandering around the group. He could sight and kill them and they wouldnt know it.
They went for another mile.
We should go back to the car.
We cant go back to the car.
They slowed but kept walking. They found an effluvia heap. Near the edge of it was a box and he looked inside. There were the remains of mushrooms that had grown through a baseball cap. Slime that looked like cheese or snow. Everything was dried and knotted and had no smell.
An hour passed and they paused at a stream. The mummied carcass of a deer in the center like an austere millbarge. Pierced odd hawthorn bushes in a dead clump hanging over it. The animal looked like a web of railroad ties. A fletcher’s distillery.
They had no supplies. Everything was back in the car.
They went another hour. The landscape became more empty. Just ground and grass. Sedge. He decided to stop and found a small place hidden from view and pointed to it and they both laid down.
He killed a man. He would do it as many times as necessary to get them where they were going. He wondered if the family did not mourn the yokel. If he hadn’t provided for them they no longer had to pretend that he did.
It got darker. He slept and woke. The air was nippy. He felt to make sure they were both there. They needed to go back to the car. They would die here without food. The family had probably taken the food but starving and violent death were both ends. Only one way had a chance for neither.
He closed his eyes. He dreamt of the woman. An infant growing out of a man’s chest screaming the name of the man he killed. The woman driving ahead of them impossible to catch on a surge of blood. He woke and felt his body around him like a coat with too many pockets and he bit his tongue. Bite it and it will grow back he thought. He slept.
The woman rising out of a pool at the speed of skin growing. Her breasts moving upwards but neverending. Tall as a statue her face dark her skin moving on free of blemish or melanin or any mark. An island adventure become nothing but it had gone on for far too long now. There was no way not to admit the body was too long and this was sign of it being dead.
The ground was dry but sometimes drizzle would drift over them. He pocketed himself around the boy and made himself rise out of his cloak and get up. They needed to move. The boy said nothing after he woke. He just stared ahead. He explained that they needed to go see if there was food in the wagon.
After awhile the boy spoke.
The man you killed was he bad.
How did you know that?
Well he wanted to do us harm.
But we were pointing a gun at him.
I could tell he was bad.
How could you tell?
Well, his demeanor. And the slaves he had with him.
How did you know they were his slaves?
They were in chains.
Couldn’t they have just liked being chained?
Maybe it made them feel… Maybe they were pretending they were dogs.
No, those were people he kept control of… for purposes. No one likes that. No one.
But what if they were special?
They weren’t special.
It took them half a day to get back. They passed the heap and the deer and saw no tracks. The eminent fishhome unperturbed. Trying to walk without making a sound. Without sounding like walking. Done they ended in bushes near the road somewhere ahead of where they had been. He did not know how far. He told the boy to wait. The boy said nothing but just accused him in his look.
He moved ahead duckwalking. There was silence and he came upon the place and there was no one in sight, no RV. The station wagon had been set on fire and the top was burned out.
He searched the bushes for an hour and looked in every tree. No one was there. They left behind bricks and rocks. A child’s sheriff hat. He went and got the boy and tried to give it to him but he wouldn’t have it. Im too old for that he said.
The roof was scalded into bits that rained like snow. The corpse was taken. The inside was cooler. The seats were still warm and they had been knifed. But he checked the motor and the line. The fire had been set in the upholstery and spread to the roof and died there in the wind and rain. The tires had been slashed and destroyed. The food was gone and there was feces in the back. We have to walk to get new tires, he said. But the highway is full of vehicles. It will take us two days. He smiled.
Do you know what this means, son?
It means we caught a break.
The boy said nothing. There was absolutely no food there. He would only get more tired so they had to begin. They headed west.
Shouldn’t we go the opposite direction of the way they went?
Oh, yes, of course son. I just wanted to get a better vantage point to look the other way.
They headed east.