The U.S. of After Chapter 22

Clayton

We didn’t even hear the four militia guys who walked up behind us with guns drawn.  The only way I knew that somethin’ was up was when Amy turned and gasped and then all the blood ran out of her face.  I’d heard stories about these types, mostly told by mothers to scare their children into not goin’ out at night, but here they was as big as life, starin’ at us through ugly hawkish eyes.  They each had little half grins on their grizzled faces.  Out of reflex I put up my hands in surrender.  That’s when I heard the old man’s voice, echoin’ behind us like he was usin’ a megaphone.

“You boys don’t need to start any trouble,” he said, soundin’ remarkably like my former high school principal.  “All of you along the fence should now lay down on the ground so you don’t get hit.”

I could imagine, even though I did not turn to see, that the old guy had a gun or somethin’ ‘cause I heard somethin’ clankin’, metal bangin’ on metal, but didn’t really recognize the sound.  All the others did as told, and I hesitantly followed suit, thinkin’ we were done for so I figured there weren’t no rush.  I covered up my head when I heard the first shot peel back the air ‘round it and whiz just over my head.  I heard the horses thunder the ground and I pictured them runnin’ off across the field as in one of them movies where the wild mustangs gallop across the prairie.  I got brave enough once to roll my eyes ‘round to try to see what was happenin’, and that was when I saw them men firing away with their big ol’ shotguns and machine guns (I weren’t sure what kind of guns they was ‘cause I’m not really a gun guy but a fishin’ guy) so I figured the old feller was toast.

They didn’t spend much time spewin’ out ammo, ‘cause after a few seconds they stopped and for some reason beat it across the highway and then into the woods, leavin’ their horses tied up.  I suppose if those horses could scratch their heads they would’ve, ‘cause I was sure puzzled.  Before I could say anything at all or even move I heard footsteps in the grass behind me close to my feet, and then the voice of the old man.

“You folks can get up now,” he said, then he cleared his throat.  “They won’t be back for a while, but they left us a nice gift.”

The air was kind of thick and smelled of gun powder and sweat.

It was kind of one of those times where nobody says anythin’ but everybody’s thinkin’ really loud, so loud you can almost hear people’s thoughts bein’ projected right out of their brains.  All of us stood up slowly from the ground and brushed ourselves off, but Ralph was standin’ still, not a grain of dust on him, starin’ off all quiet like, his face lookin’ like he’d just smoked a heap of cigars.  He was starin’ at the old man like he’d seen some kind of horror from beyond, then his eyes wandered off toward the horses standin’ in the field.  They was grazin’ again as if nothin’ happened.  I figured it was just shock from such a near miss, but Ralph stood there quiet, his mouth open, breathin’ heavy.

“What did you…?,” asked Ethan, pullin’ small bits of grass from his uniform.

“We’ll talk later,” said the old guy.  “Right now we need to take those horses and get on out of here before those guys realize what really happened and come back with a bigger army.”

“Sure, yeah,” stammered Amy.  “I… I haven’t ridden a horse since my Dad took me to a riding stable on my tenth birthday.  Should come back to me.”

Crossin’ the highway, we all made for a horse, and I ended up ridin’ on the back of Amy’s horse because she insisted.  I felt kinda awkward, but not as awkward about what happened just a bit ago.

We all rode in silence, and after a while the old guy started singin’ an old song about somethin’ that sounded churchy.  I didn’t know, but I was thankful I didn’t get massacred by them militia yahoos.

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