Sung Home: Chapter Two. {fiction}


A couple of hours after everyone else went to bed, I slithered out from under the rough wool blanket and slid my feet into mama’s worn ankle-high leather hiking boots.

I carefully shoved the kitchen knife into the sheath I had sewn to the outside of the right boot, snapping it snugly into place. Setting one heavy wool sweater and a pair of blue jeans into the middle of the blanket, I rolled them together and tied them with a piece of homemade yucca fiber twine.

I grabbed the leather satchel containing dried pinto beans, mesquite powder, pecans from last year’s crop, and large piece of goat cheese. Another satchel held full waterskins made from goats’ bladders. I would need to stock up well on water any chance I had along the way.

Stopping to listen at the doorway, I heard coyotes yipping querulously nearby. The light from the main house still shone through the windows into the darkness, lighting up the lilacs blooming against the tan stucco wall, their smell floating sweetly on the air. Darian’s brash laugh rang out from the house and I heard the rumbling voices of his underlings as well.

My bowels hollowed, and for a few long seconds I trembled so hard I couldn’t move. If they caught me, who knew what they would do to me? In the seven years since Mama and I were captured by Darian and his band, when I was nine, only two people had tried to escape, both in the first year, and both gruesomely memorable.

One, a grey-haired man named Sammy Jiron, had sneaked out on foot one night and was noticed missing at dawn. Darian’s men had run him down just a few miles away and dragged him behind a horse all the way back. They tied his bloody body, still alive, to a post and whipped him to death, forcing the rest of the captives to watch. They left his body there for a week before they finally cut him down and buried him.

I remember the reek of his rotting corpse, as much as the blood and flesh like a large bundle of torn rags. By then the coyotes, ravens and other opportunists had chewed most of the flesh off of his skeleton and the stench made even Darian’s men retch if they walked too close.

The second escapee, a thirtyish woman named Naomi Martinez, was discovered after many days missing, curled up beneath a creosote bush, thin and dry as an ocotillo, dead of dehydration and hunger. After that, everyone resigned themselves to making the best of it, including Mama and me.

Our village, Columbus, had always been remote, far from any population center since before the days of the explorer for whom it was named. But now, since the virus, even El Paso and Juarez were more ghost towns than cities. No one had any idea what was happening elsewhere, except that the virus had scoured the entire planet of about 90% of the human population before civilization as we knew it collapsed.

Satchels slung over one shoulder, and blanket rolled beneath the other arm, I took a deep breath before walking, as Daddy had taught me to when hunting rabbits. I padded carefully through the talcum-like dust, pausing between steps, ear cocked towards the stock pen.

Before Burl the burro could huff at my approach, I thrust a handful of the sweet and sour mesquite powder beneath his nostrils. He snuffled it up so eagerly it puffed out in tiny tan clouds around his snout. Mama had chided me for spoiling Burl when he was young, but right then I was glad I had disobeyed her. Burl loved me. Or at least he could be bribed into cooperation.

“There you go boy, no need to say anything. This is just between you and me. Our little secret,” I whispered soothingly into my four-footed friend’s ear as I first fitted my homemade bridle onto his nose, and then pulled myself up onto his back.

I startled momentarily at a colorful flash, seen out of the corner of my eye. Rainbow colors, impossible in the dark. I glanced wildly all around me, heart nearly knocking a hole in my chest, but I saw nothing but the gently lit desert landscape. Creosote bushes crouched like animal ghosts in the darkness, but not a beetle stirred.

The sound of shattering glass rang out in the main house, and I froze. Then, limbs thawing moments later, I kicked Burl in the sides and off we trotted. The compound’s dogs took no notice of the familiar burro and the girl they had known since they were born. The guard dogs were trained to attack strangers.

My strategy was to not get as far away as possible the first night.

Darian and his men had fast horses, and they would expect me to try to flee as far and quickly as I could right off. I knew as well as they that I wouldn’t stand a chance that way. They would assume I was stupid enough not to understand this, and they were not smart enough themselves to imagine any reasonable alternative.

Darian’s gang had reigned supreme in this region through brute force and not brains. There was not enough competition for this territory to require more.

My plan was to only go about half as far as I could comfortably, hide well away from any logical, more traveled route, and sit there while Darian and his boys wore themselves out riding hard and long, looking for me where I wasn’t. When they gave up, I would head north. To the place where the songs began.

Once Burl and I were about a mile away from the compound, I slid off his back and walked beside him, knowing the trip would be challenging enough without me on top of him the whole time. We weren’t in a hurry anyway. We easily avoided the prickly pear and cholla cactus stands, their distinctive shapes, squat and rounded, and tall and narrow respectively, easily identifiable even in the faint light.

Stars crowded the cobalt desert sky like dragon’s treasure, augmenting the light from the rising moon. A couple days before, I had spotted the area where I could best monitor Darian’s hunt for me while keeping enough distance to feel safe. We would head into the hills west of the compound, and camp on the east-facing slope of a high rise.

Surrounded by piñon and juniper trees, we would be sheltered from view, while the compound lay open to my scrutiny in the midst of low scrub oak, and sparse mesquite and ocotillo. From there, I could safely keep an eye on the comings and goings at the compound and know when they had given up looking for me.

I doubted they would think to search those hills because they were so close, and Darian would know it would be slow going there for someone trying to put distance between themselves and the compound.

Dawn arrived at my campsite in the hills, and the sun tossed its pastel palette of muted coral, turquoise and amethyst across the eastern horizon. I stirred lazily, reaching for the water bag beside me, then sat in my bedroll nibbling some pecans, watching the compound.

About an hour later, I was stretching myself more fully awake when I spotted Darian and his men emerge one by one from the main house and make their way to the joint kitchen for breakfast.

As I expected, someone must have told them I was missing because it wasn’t long before Darian and his gang mounted their horses, leaned forward in their saddles, and rode north along the old highway, now rarely used by automobiles. They must have assumed I was heading towards the closest towns of any size, Deming or Silver City. I assumed they were grimly smug in their conviction that they would find me soon.

I imagined them planning my punishment, and my skull and stomach swam with fear for a moment. I shook the images from my head and turned my mind elsewhere.

My daddy once told me, when I hesitated to cross a hefty log over a rushing stream, keeping me from the wild raspberries I knew ripened on the other side, “Move toward what you want, not away from what you fear.”

I hummed the song, Mama’s song, that I hoped would take me to my new home.

As the men grew smaller in the distance, a covey of quail skittered quickly by me in a curvy line, mama and daddy leading, four little ones rushing to keep up. The black topknots protruding out of their foreheads like wobbly question marks made me smile. I had tied Burl to a tree with a vigorous bunch of new grass at its base, which he contentedly munched as we waited.

Nibbling just enough provisions to keep my stomach from growling, I napped off and on through the day, head cradled in my crooked arm as I lay in the pine needles, bits of bark and old piñon nut shells strewn at the edge of the overlook. I checked between dozes for signs of Darian and his men’s return to the compound.

It was nearly sundown when I saw them, moving slowly now. Darian in the lead still and the others straggling behind. I felt a thrill of triumph that I had outwitted them so far, and entertained a moment’s temptation to sneak back down and listen at the window to their conversation about the day. They had kept us all cowed for so long, they believed as much as we had that we couldn’t escape.

Even tyrants can be dumb-asses.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.


Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.


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