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After Grace By MatheusHMacedo Characters: 8738

Updated: 2018-01-05 17:12


"You know me?" my eyes tried to find recognition in the curve of his cheeks and valley of his eyes but there was nothing. He turned away and went back to washing the blood off his jacket.

"You're sorry?" he asked, not as much a question as a challenge.

"About the boy. I know you were trying to help him."

"And suddenly you care? Why? Because you had to see it?" he stood and hung the wet jacket on a branch. He pulled a cigarette from his pants pocket and lit it with a golden zippo.

"Excuse me?" I asked, confused and offended.

"Are you sorry about the other children who get cut up every day out there?"

"I-"

"You don't know about them. Because you're here, " he said and ripped the jacket from the tree. He tore past me, disappearing into the woods. I stood there in the dark, words and thoughts failing me. I walked back through the skeletal forest, his words rattling between my ears. I told myself he was just upset about the boy. When I got back to camp, everything was still and silent. There was no place to go but my tent.

I crawled under the blankets and closed my eyes, doing my best to remember as far back as I could. Maybe Tom was someone who took care of me when I was a child. I had been passed through the community like an unwelcome house pet, not as much raised as I was baby-sat. I remembered all my caretakers as far back as when I was five years old. I had no memory of Tom.

But it wasn't the fact that he seemed to know me that kept me up all night. It was what he had said. When the anger of his accusations finally settled in my stomach, I realized he was right. The only thought I had ever had about anyone outside my group was how lucky I was not to be one of them.

#

The boy Tom had brought with him was buried the next morning. The pastor's wife spiked a small makeshift cross into the cold brown dirt. Beside the child sized mound lay two others; members of the community who hadn't survived our last move. Dead leaves fell around me as a chilled November wind came ripping through the tops of high trees. The clearing was a few kilometers from camp, still well hidden but here you could see more sky. We didn't call it a cemetery, we didn't call it anything.

Pastor Moore stumbled through the eulogy. Mostly reading a few passages about death and eternal life from his leather bound bible. Without a name or any semblance of a story for the boy, there was little else he could do. Typically, when we gathered to bury one of own, the pastor could give meaning to their lives, if not their deaths. But here there was no meaning, and Tom hadn't shown up to give any answers.

We walked back to camp in a two row file, Joseph stood beside me matching each step. The chatter usually didn't start until we returned to camp but today, it was immediate.

"What if they followed him here? He could have led them right to us, " I heard a women say.

"We don't know anything, stifle yourself, you'll cause a panic, " urged the old man beside her. The couple ahead of me and the girls behind all spoke in hushed tones, no one could keep quiet. I listened to the each word as they spilled from frightened mouths and echoed off dead trees. We were all afraid.

"It's starting to get cold, " Joseph said, when he realized I was just as sacred as the rest of them.

"He recognized me, " I said.

"Who?" he asked.

"Tom."

The couple ahead of me stopped moving. Before I could wonder why I heard Mike's voice from behind the trees.

"You have to wait for the pastor, " he said, his voice had the angry hiss of someone whose patience was running out. I stepped out of the line, Joseph grabbed my shoulder.

"Stay here."

"What's going on?" I asked. The pastor rushed past us from the back of the line. Joseph ran with him. I stood with the uneasy crowd until I realized no one was holding me there. I walked around the elders in front of the line and ran between the tree stumps that marked the entrance to the camp. Slowly, others also began to move as I had.

Tom was standing at the armory gate, facing Mike. The two were caught in a stare-off, their eyes only inches from one another. Pastor Moore and Joseph sped through the camp, stopping when they reached the men. The pastor put both his hands on their shoulders. He spoke too low for us to hear. Mike turned with a sour face to the pa

stor, as if to ask, are you sure? The pastor nodded and Mike stepped aside. Tom marched into the armory and laid an empty duffel bag on the ground. He began filling it with ammo and weapons. He took blankets and a little bit of food and water and threw them into a worn out backpack which now sat nearly bursting at his feet.

When he came out he had a long hunting rifle with a large scope attached slung around his back. The barrel of a sawed off shotgun stuck out from the duffel. People began filtering in as Tom quietly talked to the pastor. Joseph moved closer to the men and they all stood around whispering to each other. We watched and waited. The pastor turned to us.

"Tom says there's a small Vesp group near by." The people around me swayed on their feet, each talking over the other. "He's looking for a volunteer, " the pastor announced.

"I need someone who can shoot from afar, " Tom said. "You won't be in danger, I will. I need someone to watch my back."

"Everyone get to packing, " Harry said and spit on the ground. "We're leaving." He took Damen by the arm and began to move to his tent.

"There may be more than the ones I saw, " Tom stepped in his way. "It isn't safe to leave until we're sure. They could be all around this area."

"And what exactly are you planning? You want us to watch your back? What for?"

"They took a lot of people prisoner. I saw them... children-"

"We have children!" Harry shouted. "My boy's right here! I'm not going off into a town I don't know to fight for people I don't know. You wanna start a war, you do it on your own."

Tom laughed. "So ya'll are glad to shed a few tears for a dead boy, but when it comes to trying to save a live one-"

"No need for that Tom, " the pastor said. "There's plenty of room here if you want to stay."

Tom lifted the backpack in his hand and let it hang from one shoulder. He walked across camp toward the Southern exit. The forest spread North for miles, South of us there were only town and cities, all of which would systematically be scoured for food by the Lost.

"What about you?" Tom asked, looking at me from across camp. All eyes drifted in my direction.

"Me?"

"You're what, nineteen?" he asked.

"Eighteen, " I said, feeling small.

"Can you shoot?"

"Not really." Joseph crossed in front of me. "She's a child, " he said. I wanted to argue the point but was shamefully glad for his protest.

"Okay, so you come, " Tom said to him.

"We all have our part to play here. We can't save everyone Tom. We have to look out for our own."

"What do you think I'm doing out there?" Tom looked me in the eye. He turned back to Joseph. "Does she even know? Did you even tell her-"

"Just go, " Joseph interrupted.

"Do I know what?" I asked.

"Forget it Grace, he's a manipulator, " Joseph said.

"I'm a manipulator?" Tom nearly laughed, "You're the one telling her stories and I'm the liar?" he picked up the rifle. "If hiding in the forest is how you all want to live, I hope you know, it's how you're gonna die, " he began to leave.

"What's he talking about? Know what?" I asked Joseph.

"He's full of shit, " he said, but he didn't look at me. I knew Joseph well enough to know that he always made eye contact when he talked to you, just not when he lied. I scanned the crowd, their eyes were half watching me and half trying not to. I knew this feeling well, only it had never been so obvious. All at once it was like all the pieces came together and I knew. I didn't belong here, and everyone but me knew why.

I broke from the crowd, Joseph trailed behind me as I followed Tom. "What don't I know?" I asked him. "Tom!" I screamed. He stopped and turned.

"Grace!" Joseph yelled. I ignored him, my eyes locked on Tom's.

"Tell me, " I said. My heart beat dangerous in my chest.

"I need a second set of eyes on this thing, help me, then I'll tell you."

"I told you I can't shoot, I never learned, " I said.

"I'll teach you."

Joseph grabbed my arm-- I pulled it away. Behind him, the people remained in their spots, all waiting for it to end. None of them willing to take a single step from safety, not for any reason. I saw them as Tom saw them. Weak, hiding, pathetic.

"You don't just want to sit here and hide all your life do you?" Tom asked.

"No, " I said without thinking. "I don't."

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