fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Five. {fiction}

 

“Hold on, girl. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” The voice was male, gravely, but also young.

I couldn’t tell for sure, but I thought I felt some trembling coming through the gun’s barrel. It occurred to me that if the gunman didn’t do this often, it could be a good thing for me, but not necessarily. I stood granite-still and forced myself to take a deep, quiet breath to get my brain working again.

His body pressed so close behind me I could smell that this guy had not taken a bath in a very long time. I repressed a gag, then tried to breathe through my mouth.

“You’re gonna come with me.”

I didn’t argue. In fact, I didn’t say anything.

Slowly he eased the gun off my temple, one hand clamped onto my arm like a dog on a freshly-killed rabbit. He turned me back towards a building Burl and I had just passed and marched me towards it. I didn’t dare look right at my captor, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that he didn’t look much older than me. He had long straggly brown hair, and a thin, downy beard forming on his chin.

“I’m not trying to move into your territory, or cause you any problems. I’m just passing though,” I said, trying to keep my voice low and steady despite my breath trying to come quick and high in my chest.

“It doesn’t matter what you think you’re doing. You’re coming with me.”

For a moment I considered dropping Burl’s lead rope and giving him a smack on the behind, which was our signal for him to bolt, but I worried this guy might just shoot us both. I held Burl’s rope as I was half-led, half-dragged by Stinky Boy. We clambered over a low wall of brick rubble and into a shadowy building, Burl stumbling on the uneven surface, his hooves clattering loudly.

The room we entered through now-disintegrated glass double doors must have been the lobby of a hotel or bank or government office complex, spacious, with smooth granite floors throughout, though covered in dulling dust.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw arrayed around the edges of the room about 15 overstuffed, battered but still comfortable, chairs with people in them. All looking at me. Each one appeared to be as filthy as Stinky Boy. There were three small children, a couple older children and adults up to about middle age.

One of the older women rose from her chair and strode over to us. Her hair was stringy and greasy like Stinky Boy’s but she looked strong and confident. Just a few inches away from me, she looked long and hard into my face. I looked in her direction but kept my gaze soft, not threatening, like when encountering a bear in the forest.

“What’re you doing here?” she demanded.

“Just passing through.”

“From where to where?”

“South of here. Goin’ northwest.”

“You one of Darian’s scouts?” She said Darian’s name like Dar-ee-an, all drawn out and with a look of utter clenched-jaw hatred the likes of which I had rarely seen before. I guessed it was the same look I would have if I said his name.

“No. I have no interest in helping Darian.” I took a risk, trusting what I had seen in her face, and added, “Probably for the same reasons you don’t.”

She stepped back a bit, relaxing some. She still watched my face but seemed to have read the truth there. “Well, he came through here a couple of days ago with his men and roughed some of us up demanding to know if we had seen someone, a girl, someone looking a lot like you.”

Asking if I was one of his scouts was a kind of test, to see if I would acknowledge even knowing him, as she knew I must. She gazed at my face some more, as if making calculations. I started trembling and breathing faster than I wanted. I dared a look into her eyes, trying to decipher her intention. Had he offered her some kind of reward? There were a lot more of them than of me, plus at least one gun.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Darian would do to me if he got me back. Tie me up and whip me to death in front of the others, then leave my body tied to the post as it rotted, as he had with Sammy Jiron all those years ago? Take me into the gang’s house and use me as they had Sylvia?

Leader Lady broke our stare down, turning to look at the group seated behind her. “What do you think?” she asked no one in particular.

“Kill her!” yelled a stout middle-aged man, who sported a fresh-looking black eye and an apparently broken nose, which I assumed must be the result of the roughing-up Leader Lady had mentioned. He then laughed abruptly and loudly, a high-pitched, manic edge to his voice, causing some of the others to either snicker or squirm in their seats. I didn’t know how to read this. Was he serious? Were they?

Through all this, Stinky Boy had kept the gun against my head, of which I was suddenly more acutely aware. Glancing sideways at him, I could tell by the sad look in his eyes and rigid set of his chin that he didn’t want to shoot me, but he had shot people before and would do it now if told to.

A younger man standing near an interior doorway across the room, possibly Leader Lady’s son or nephew from the similar auburn hair and green eyes, said with an exaggerated sigh, “But then we’d have to dispose of the body, and you know how much I hate that. I’d be the one to have to bury her, and that means hauling her out of town, and risking being seen by one of the Roamers. And that’s never good.”

A skinny, dishwater-blond, 30-ish-looking woman said matter-of-factly, “Don’t shoot her. But do take any food she has. And anything else we can use.”

In the end, they took all my food, all the pecans, mesquite powder and jerky I had so carefully scavenged for this trip. Gone. But at least they didn’t take my knife or other gear. I would be able to hunt, collect and prepare food along the way. Someone suggested they keep Burl, but another pointed out that he would have to be fed, so really would be costing them more than he would help.

Stinky Boy and Thirtyish Woman were given the task of escorting us out of town, as the sun began its slide down the western sky. We walked in silence, Thirtyish in front, Burl and I behind her, and Stinky Boy bringing up the rear, following some winding route through the residential area on that side of town, which no doubt held some strategic advantage invisible to me.

We were taking a different route than Mama’s song said to take, but I could see that there was just one paved road heading the direction we needed to go so I didn’t worry about it. In fact, I figured Thirtyish knew the safest route through this part of town, so in a weird way, being captured by them might have saved us from being caught by one of the warlords, whom they called Roamers.

I wanted to know why the group who caught me lived where they did, how they managed to stay out of the clutches of the warlords, but didn’t dare ask a thing. I figured I had gotten off a lot easier than I might have and didn’t want to push my luck by seeming too nosy.

Finally, at the last broken remnant of concrete sidewalk, Thirtyish stopped, turned to me, looked me in the eye much as Leader Lady had, and said in a tone of finality, “Keep moving. Don’t come back.” Then she and Stinky Boy wound their way back the way we had come.

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

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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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