I waved at Gabe, but he was too busy to respond. Of all of us, he is the most traveled.
Clayton spent a few moments searching for him but I suppose he realized that this would be a terrible waste of resources. It would. We trudged on, realizing that the diesel truck that went by with the gaggle of rednecks was a rarity. Since humanity had most definitely burned up all the oil in the world, people had to resort to veggie oil salvaged from fast food restaurants. Some people resorted to propane and some were also trying to make their cars run on other more bizarre options. It was a sad state of affairs. Too bad the U.S. did not invest in a better train system, not that it would have mattered with the electricity gone. Clayton often mumbled to himself about how this did not seem like a very successful enterprise since he had not seen many vehicles at all, “mostly just people who got their kicks from sneakin’ up on you to rob you blind” as he would say.
He shuffled on. Sporadically he would discover some people wandering down the road the other direction and he would slide off into the bushes to hide. Clayton was determined not to be robbed again. As per instruction from my Superior, I was to tag along with him and keep him safe…within reason.
“Jerusalem? Why Jerusalem?” Clayton whispered.
He began mumbling to himself about what might have happened to his mother once the lights went out in Iowa and then the rest of the country. I wish I could give him an answer. I had not been privy to this information. We both then locked eyes on another crumbling old convenience store on the side of the highway. It might as well be called an in-convenience store at this point, since nearly everything had been looted or burned.
Worse yet, the brutal sun was falling below the horizon and Clayton knew that this was the time that all the bandits decided to relieve others of their goods. He had to find a place to sleep that was safe from scavengers soon or he would end up naked this time, or roasting over a spit. Actually, the chances of that were slim. Clayton’s fears were nothing I could comfort him about. Sometimes when Clayton was asleep he would mumble about his aunt Shirley’s swimming pool. I understood that he was longing for someplace cool, especially with the heat of the sun the way it was. People had ruined the sky with their greed, then ruined the rest of the planet with their war.
When we reached the in-convenience store, Clayton found a road that snaked back through the woods and we could faintly see the roof of a house in the distance at the top of a hill. The trees hid most of it from view where one could see the roof material angling up out from between the brown and green leafy branches. If no one lived in it or had abandoned it entirely, then he supposed he could perhaps stay there for a night and get some rest.
As we moved closer, we noticed that the house sat on a large acreage with an old sheet metal barn behind it. We did not see any livestock or cars or any other sign of life worth mentioning except for a random squirrel. Clayton made a determined march for the two story house because he could always set some old cans and fishing line or string along the stairs to warn himself of any intruders while he slept. It is always difficult to feel safe when the world is full of vagabonds and scavengers.
We walked closer and noticed that this little homestead was very quiet, save the wind making the leaves in the trees hiss and rattle. I suppose Clayton surmised that if there were people living in this house, his presence on the overgrown, weedy lawn would cause them to send out a party to un-welcome him, unless they were otherwise scared and actually cowered inside.
Clayton decided to take a risk. Sleeping outside was a much more dangerous thing than finding a second story house with a soft bed upstairs. The idea of a modicum of comfort was sounding better and better, and as he neared the front door of the only two-story house in miles of wooded countryside, he noticed that the front door had a dead bolt. Perhaps it was not locked.
He rattled around on the handle a bit (and I flinched, expecting the worst) until he decided he would have to find another way in. Maybe the back door was not locked. He adjusted the near empty backpack on his shoulders and strode quickly around to the side of the house and into the back yard. No dogs, so that was a good sign. Someone probably ate them. It was still very quiet and from his expression I understood that he felt he was safe. This, of course, is how all horror movies take a nasty turn.
He arrived at the back door, but as he reached for the handle the door flew open to reveal a red headed girl wearing green jogging shorts and a dirty white t-shirt with Little Axe Cheer printed across it in blue letters. She gripped a yellow broom, waving the handle end right at Clayton’s head. I was not told to intervene, so I squinted my eyes and gritted my teeth.
I supposed, by his expression, that he was briefly shocked at how pretty she was and how her green eyes sparkled in the darkening gloom. A faint smile parted his lips. If that thought was there, it was knocked savagely out of his head by the broom handle as it fiercely connected with his right cheek. I heard a thump and she had already jabbed the end of it into his solar plexus, causing him to wheeze. Something told me she was descended from swashbucklers or pirate captains or something. She was lightening quick with that broom. Buffy quick. This girl gave Clayton some rapid Zorro punishment, and I could tell it was extremely painful from his groans.
“You get out of here!” she screamed, her eyes two big green globes. Clayton’s eyes were wide open to match his gaping mouth. A string of drool fell past his bottom lip. The grin was gone.
Clayton put his hands up defensively and she whacked his right wrist , hitting that little bone that sticks out, and finally I saw his eyebrows furrow and he took in a breath through clenched teeth. I chuckled a little. He tried to grab at the broom, but she effortlessly whipped it around and thwacked him on the kneecap. He went down on the small concrete stoop, and she started beating him, the sound of it similar to a person beating the dust out of a quilt on a clothes line. Each time the broom handle sailed through the air it made the whooping call of an insane bird.
Clayton ineffectually balled up in a tight bundle and she kept at it, darting back inside the door and finally trying to slam it shut, but Clayton’s head was slightly across the threshold. She ended up banging the door against his head in an attempt to close it behind her. That was when Clayton went straight out.
I helplessly watched her drag him inside, and as per my purpose on earth I followed them in.
- The U.S. of After Chapter 1 (writingishardwork.com)
- The U.S. of After Chapter 2 (writingishardwork.com)