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   Chapter 3 On The Road

After Grace By MatheusHMacedo Characters: 7863

Updated: 2018-01-05 17:12


I had never walked on paved ground for so long before. The highway seemed to stretch on forever in either direction. Tom walked several feet ahead of me, every now and then he would climb inside one of the more pristine sedans on the road and try to start it. None of them worked, he wasn't surprised, but he kept trying.

I watched the road beneath my feet, feeling the harshness of it with each step. I stopped short when I saw the blood. A single dot, then a long trail. "You carried the boy all this way?" I asked. My shoulders had started to ache from the heavy backpack. I needed a break but I didn't want him to think I was weak. I walked on.

"Uh huh, " he mumbled, lighting another cigarette.

"Are you sure you know how to get back? The camp's pretty well hidden."

"You want to go back?" he didn't turn around, didn't slow down.

"No. Just asking, " I slipped the pack off my shoulders and let it drop.

"What's wrong?" he turned.

"I need a second, sorry." I rested against a rust covered BMW.

"Not here, there's a clearing in the woods across the highway. That's where I'm gonna teach you to shoot."

"Won't they hear us?"

"We're not gonna shoot, I'm just gonna teach you how."

"Oh."

He zig-zagged across the still parade of dead cars, I picked the backpack off the asphalt and hurried to keep up with him. As we walked in silence, I tried not to think about Joseph. Mostly because I didn't know what to think. I was pretty sure he'd been lying to me all my life, though I wasn't exactly certain what the lie was. What I did know is that if it hadn't been for him, my life would have been one of complete solitude, utter isolation.

"Don't go, " Joseph had begged as I was leaving with Tom.

"I have to, " I had told him, and though I felt it was true in every sense, I had only a vague sense of why. It was as if I was suddenly realizing that life could have more meaning than what the pastor created at your funeral. After hearing Tom mention other people in need, strangers who may die if not for us, I realized that simply surviving was only one of many choices I never knew I had. I looked back, watching as the trees that surrounded our camp disappear behind the cars on the highway as we moved down the hill on the other end of the road.

"I liked what you said, " I told Tom as we broke through the new tree line. "No one at the camp ever talks about people outside."

"That's 'cause they don't give a shit." He took a short puff of his cigarette and scanned the trees in every direction, presumably to make sure we were alone.

"Why do you care?" I asked, my feet got caught on fallen sticks as I moved. It was as if all the skills I'd learned about walking quietly had vanished as soon as I had left camp.

He pulled the cigarette from his lips and rubbed it against a tree before throwing the butt on the ground. The cinders swooped into the air, floating like orange stars against a blue sky. Then, one by one they fell and faded to nothing.

"What made you go out the first time?" I asked.

"What's with all the questions?"

"Just wondering. I don't really believe anyone does anything out of the goodness of their hearts."

"That's 'cause you've never seen it."

"So that's why you do it? 'Cause you're good?" I asked. Silence followed.

We finally reached the clearing, Tom slipped the rifle from his shoulder and put it on the grass. He dropped the duffel bag on the ground and pulled at the zipper. He took a piece of chalk from inside and crossed the field to a tree about fifty feet away. He drew an X in the middle of the trunk and walked back to me.

"Alright, Pocahontas let's see you shoot. Pick that up." He pointed to the rifle. I dropped the backpack and took the gun.

"It's really heavy, " I said. All at once I realized just how easy the hunters made it seem.

"That's good, makes you strong." He came up to me and lifted the butt o

f the gun to my shoulder. I looked through the scope and saw the X floating in and out of view. "Lie down, prone."

"Lie what?"

"On your belly."

I did as I was told. I had always dreamt of being taught to shoot, to hunt. These were the most admirable skills one could attain in our small community, but when we thought of who would be at the other end of the barrel, we always assumed it would be some unfortunate animal.

"I won't have to kill anyone right?"

"You don't think you can?" he asked.

"I don't know, " I said, lifting my eyes from the scope. "Probably not. Maybe. I don't know."

"You probably won't have to. If I get in trouble, just shoot close enough to scare 'em off, " he said. The look he gave me then was the same as the young mother who had taken pity on me about my hurt lip in the camp.

"Who are they? Just some Vesp group or-"

"Bad guys."

"And they killed that boy?" I asked.

"Yeah."

"Are you going back to help the others or just for revenge?"

"Hopefully both, " he said. "Hold your breath, get the target in your sights and gently squeeze the trigger."

I took a big breath and held it as he'd instructed. The white chalk lines stopped swaying in the scope. When the crosshairs matched the center of the X, I squeezed. The gun clicked. A smile crept up on me.

"You're a natural, " he said.

"How do you know? I could have missed."

"I can see it in your face. Alright, we're gonna try it sitting, then kneeling, then standing. When we're done we'll move on to knives and handguns."

"Do we have time for all that?"

"We'll make the time, you need to know it, just in case. These guys don't play around."

"We're losing light."

"We'll camp here, move tomorrow." He got down on one knee and signaled for me to do the same. I did. "Here, this is for you to keep, " he took a butterfly knife from the duffel and handed it to me. I slipped it in my pocket.

"Thanks, " I said, unsure of the etiquette here. "Why did they kill the boy?" I asked.

"They killed his sister first, " he said. "These people aren't workers, they don't grow their own crops. When they run out of food-"

"Stop, " I said. "I think- I think I can do it, " I told him. "I think I can kill."

#

The next morning, Tom woke me just as the sun was starting to burn sharp through the trees in the east. He picked up the backpack and put it on my back as soon as I got up, I nearly toppled over with the weight of it. "You sure we need everything in here?" I asked.

"You like eating food and drinking water don't you?"

"I like being able to move, " I said.

"Blankets are the culprit, but we need them more than we need the food cans. Hypothermia kills in minutes, hunger can take weeks." He picked up the duffel and led the way back to the road. It wasn't more than a few minutes before we saw the exit signs: Harrend, Two Miles. But something had been sprayed over the letters. The closer we got, the clearer it became. "Ours, " it said.

"Vesp claimed it. We'll claim it back."

"Do we want it?" I asked.

"No, but we don't want them to have it."

I could feel the blood in my palms draining. They became cold and clammy. My head spun, my mouth dry as cotton, I was terrified. "When I was little, " I began, hoping that conversation would ease my anxiety. "I used to think all the cannibals were part of the same crew, but they're all different. They're all over the world..."

"That's right, " Tom said, rubbing his thumb over the top of his yellow zippo.

"How come we call them all by the same name?"

"It's not a name, it's a label. Used to be there were these giant hornets in China. All over Asia really. They went 'round basically just killing honeybees for food. Wiped out entire hives in minutes. Vespa Mandarinia they were called."

"So we're the honeybees."

"Not today, " he said, looking down the road to the water tower on the hill.

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