The U.S. of After Chapter 21


Howard

They all stood quietly along the rusty, crooked barbed wire fence, staring at the grazing brown and white horses in the wavy golden field.  A breeze had picked up out of the south and this group of tired travelers had their eyes closed, feeling the welcome air blow across their skin.

“How I’d love to be able to get one of them horses to ride,” said Clayton.  “I wonder if they’re broken.”

“And how do you expect to ride them without bridles and without saddles,” Ralph sniffed.  “You gonna just talk to the animals like that movie with Eddie Murphy?”

After this comment there were a few chuckles and then there was dead silence, only the sound of the wind blowing the leaves on the trees and the cicadas chireeing in the branches.

Just then, Jacob Buckminster, former pastor, lay his hickory staff against a fence post a few feet to the left of their group, parted the barbed wire and stepped through, his gate slow and methodical as he crossed the field.  He pulled a small metal bucket from his over-the-shoulder brown satchel and was soon scanning the ground for small rocks that he placed inside, each one falling into the bucket.  Before anyone was able to say a word, the gray headed elder sat in the tall grass and began rattling the bucket of rocks in his left hand while using his right hand for support.

“What is that guy doing?” whispered Ethan.  “And…did you guys see him before now?”

“Yeah, um, he was sitting over there across the highway,” said Amy, shrugging her shoulders.  “I think I’ll watch and see what happens.”

“Why didn’t you tell me—.”

“Shhhh!” said the three youths.

All of them stood silently as Jacob rattled his little bucket of rocks.  Quietly, gracefully, each horse stopped grazing and raised their heads to find the origin of the noise.  After a few minutes of standing around as if they were discussing the matter, the horses began walking toward Jacob, their heads bobbing gently along.  The ragged crew on the other side of the fence began to show toothy smiles, for some of them this expression foreign to their faces for quite some time.  Ethan cautiously raised his fist for Ralph to bump it with his own, and after some hesitation, Ralph did not “leave him hanging” as they say.  Amy’s cheeks had streaks of tears cutting through the dirt and grime.

The horses came closer to the old man, curious, thinking perhaps that the bucket contained oats or sorghum mash or some other treat.  Jacob reached in his satchel carefully and with a trembling hand pulled forth three white paper packets which he tore open all at once and poured into his hand.  He did not stand, but raised his cupped hand containing the sweet crystals toward the waiting and eager lips of the brown and white painted stallion.  Its chocolate mane billowing in the wind, it sniffed the old man’s hand and then a pink tongue shot out and began licking at the sweet and wonderful sugar.

Jacob rose to one knee and then creaked to his full height as he stood, his knees protesting, to stroke the neck of the beautiful beast.  I was present when these creatures first walked upon the earth in that wonderful garden.  I remember how their young played and romped there and part of me wished I could be back there again.  One day soon, I suppose, in the eternal scheme of things, this will all be restored.

I suppose it was my focus on the display of the grandeur of my Superior working out transportation for my charges that distracted me, but only briefly.  I sensed them before they made themselves visible to the others.  Four gaunt horses each of a different color stood tied to various trees along the other side of the highway and four brutishly armed men strode chests out across the cracked pavement, all of them shrouded in a black haze that told me of their possessed state.  Slinking along beside them, his fingernails clicking, was the cold black shape of Morax.

“This should be good,” he growled, his eyes flashing about the scene.

My charges did not notice them at all, but before the four monsters could do their worst, I heard the sky split with thunder and realized that it was the voice of He Who Made the Universe.  The old man’s face turned to look directly at me and then at the four men.  As he did, two of my kind landed directly between the horses and the fence with such force that their booted feet splintered the rocky ground beneath, sending shards of stone in every direction.  They did not look at me, but glared focused, steely eyes on the job at hand, the air crackling with an unseen energy.  The battle was engaged.

Jacob blinked once.

“Indeed,” the old man said calmly, his voice nearly a whisper.  “But he always provides a way.”

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