The U.S. of After Chapter 32

Howard

Prayer, especially fervent prayer, is fascinating to watch.

Clayton knelt in the sand next to Amy.  Ralph stood still, watching the both of them.  The Spirit within Clayton and Amy, a piece and persona of the Living God, translated their meager prayers into a song of beautiful light that danced above their heads, putting off a beacon of color that was invisible to the human eye.  If the humans could see what they produced when speaking directly to the throne, I am sure they would pray without ceasing indeed.

My comrades, now a gathered platoon of twenty one, sharpened swords and readied armor.  Some of them stood near the shore of the Red River practicing an ancient form of martial art unknown to humans.  It enhanced our already capable battle prowess and was bred into us from creation.  None of us had ever taken a class in the art, and none of us really saw it in steps as humans do, but a way of fighting that is part of us.  The enemy knew it well, but had perverted it and added moves that were abominable, the method they often applied to everything.

I saw the enemy, too.  They stood in a mass along the ridge line, their shapes an opaque cloud of mischief and evil too thick to see through, shadowing the men in the militia, parasites on the backs of dogs.  I could hear the enemy’s voices, rattling raspy sounds that skittered across the air and attacked my hearing.  I remembered the day we went to war in the wadi of Rephidim, when Moses held his staff aloft as a sign of faith and we were instructed to aid only when his staff was raised.  Today smelled like that day so long ago.  It seemed just as important.

I wondered about Jacob, a man whose faith echoed through the ranks of my brethren.  I knew that whether he lived or died that things would proceed according to plan, and I was incapable of doubt, but I hurt for him.  I enjoyed the old gentleman and felt that he had something delightful about him, that he had allowed things to be revealed to him.  Most humans never do that.  Most of them go about their lives wondering what will happen next while others, very few others, trust that they cannot possibly know the answers and then fall into that zone of peace that is beyond their feeble brains to understand.  It is not because of anything they do, but it is because the Most High allows them to have this ability.  We look on this with wonder.

Something was stirring below.

I could see the men on horseback approach the edge of the ridge, dismount, and then begin walking carefully down the steep grassy path to the water’s edge.  Several of the men from the tent community stood in a crowd to meet them, but none of them seemed to be carrying weapons.  The militia men each had a weapon, most of them carrying rifles while others carried machetes or cheap swords found in pawn shops before the war.  One of them, Captain Waldeburg, limped along the sand toward the men, a large grin across his greasy face, his long mustache growing down to his jaw line on both sides, his wide brim hat shading his face from a sun that had been nearly blotted out by debris from the meteor.

Morax followed him, his dark eyes darting around with the methodical movements of a reptilian predator.

“Good to see you folks know when you’re beat,” said the gravelly voiced Captain.  “I hate to have to waste bullets on people who have figured out who’s boss.”

He stuck out a hand clad in a yellow leather gauntlet glove, small spatters of black dried blood on the knuckles.  Mr. Coffman, a burly fellow with square shoulders and short whips of brown hair crossing the top of his bald head, stood with his hands to his side.

“We’ll do as you ask,” said Mr. Coffman, his voice shaky.  “But please leave our men here.  We need them to defend the camp.”

The Captain chuckled.

“You mean like the bang up job those three boys of yours did?” sneered Waldeburg.  “You need our protection.  B’sides.  All you have to do is pay your food and manpower tax once per month and all will be well.  Givin’ up the wizard was a good move—.”

“—He gave himself up,” Coffman interrupted.  “We didn’t have anything to do with that.”

I saw Morax slink up and whisper something in the Captain’s ear.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s good,” the Captain growled, spitting in the sand at Coffman’s feet.  “But there’s still the matter of the men I need to replenish my numbers.  Lost a few back in McAlester to the regular army types.  Their superior fire power kind of made quick work of my cannon fodder, but we won the day.  Did we not, men?”

There was a general roar from the men around him and a few snickering laughs.  It reminded me of hyenas on the Serengeti.  There was then an awkward silence that is often found in conversations, but the Captain was quick to end it.

“I’ll tell you what,” offered Waldeburg, taking off his mirrored shades to reveal a deep hole where his left eye should be.  “Give us about three women to do with as we please and twenty percent of your foodstuffs and we’ll come back in three weeks and see if you change your mind any.  Think about it, that’s all.”

Mr. Coffman looked to his left and then behind him where his eyes rested on his four year old daughter squatting by the river’s edge playing with a muscle shell she had discovered.  Michael stood over her, guarding her, his sword gripped tight in his massive hand, his face set like flint.  Coffman turned back to the Captain, and just as he was about to open his mouth to speak, the single report of a rifle peeled from the top of the ridge.

Captain Waldeburg’s right shoulder flowered open, a red bloody rose, and Morax and his army descended on us as bats in a hell-cave.

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