fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Seven. {fiction}

 

With any luck at all, we could make at least a day’s progress per stanza and be back to Grandma’s house at Gila Hot Springs in less than two weeks.

There were so few people who had lived in that area when Grandma Sita was alive, and it was so far from a town of any size, I imagined it would be less dangerous than other places. Maybe some of Sita’s neighbors whom I had gotten to know as a child would be there, and welcome me as her granddaughter. Maybe I would be helped by people who genuinely cared about me, if only because of her.

As I lay in my bedroll, gazing up at stars thick as bees in a field of flowers and listening to Burl snuffling grass comfortingly beside me, my heart expanded and I exhaled long and deeply. For the first time since Mama and I lived in the community at Columbus, before Darian and his men captured us, I felt hopeful, as if there might be something to look forward to in life again.

I had been so desperate to get away from Darian that I hadn’t considered much what I was running to. How great it would feel to be a part of a real community again instead of a warlord’s compound.

I hadn’t been asleep for more than an hour when the sound of men’s voices awakened me. They were coming my way. I curled up as small as I could, pulling my sleeping bag tightly around me, wriggling in the gritty desert sand till I was snug under a nearby bit of scrub oak. I was painfully aware of Burl’s bulk looming nearby and prayed he wouldn’t startle at the sound of the men. I held my breath as I listened.

I heard the men dismount about 30 yards from us. A lightning bolt of recognition pealed through my body — it was Lem and Jeff!

Did Darian send them back out to look for me? After six days? That didn’t make any sense. I wasn’t that important to the running of the compound. I didn’t have any irreplaceable knowledge or skills. Robert knew farming, and Marianne, the mechanic, understood any machine she saw like a mother knows her own baby. But me? I mostly cooked and cleaned and weeded.

Fighting to quiet my breath, bit by bit I calmed myself. Peering through the oak leaves, I could see no more than vague shadowy movements. I heard the sound of saddles being slid off their horses and laid on the ground.

Centuries later, when my heart slowed to a human rhythm again, I resolved to find out what they were up to. I shot Burl a warning look that said, “Not a sound!” But he returned a sleepy gaze without as much as a snuffle.

I crawled as slowly as a stink bug, belly low, on my hands and knees, careful to keep my feet lifted a little so they wouldn’t drag noisily in the leaves and other debris. I settled on my stomach near a dense prickly pear cluster, hoping the men would be disinclined to relieve themselves near the forbidding thorns.

“… better off without Darian, Lem,” said Jeff.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I didn’t like getting run off though,” replied Lem, shaking his head.

“We can do like we planned before, just find a house of our own and start our own gang.”

“Yeah, yeah. We can head towards Silver City and find some place around there. Not too many people lived between here and there before, so there’ll be something, someplace we can live, I bet. It pisses me off he blamed us about that girl leaving though. Just ’cause we started it with that other girl, he weren’t complaining then. He joined in.”

“We was the new guys, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. I guess so.”

Lem’s words trailed off to silence, soon followed by the sound of the deep breathing of sleep. My blood had frozen at the mention of Sylvia. So they had started it with her? I lay in the dirt shaking like I had when I first saw her body. I had hated all of them before, but now I hated Lem and Jeff even more, which I had not thought possible. I didn’t just want to run from them. I wanted to kill them.

Chances were though, that the best I could do, the very best, would be to kill one before the other got to me. I could choose vengeance and death, or worse. Or I could choose life and stick with my plan.

I crawled back to my bed, where I had no intention of sleeping, knife clutched in my hand. I must have been more tired than I had realized because I startled awake at first light, almost giving myself away with a fearful gasp, looking blindly left and right before the scenery came into focus. All I heard were crickets. I saw the silhouettes of the men’s horses against the starry sky.

I so feared being caught asleep again, I lay steel-limbed under my blankets until I heard them rouse. I wanted to bolt out of there like a rabbit trying to get hit by a truck but they would hit me unless I kept still. To my infinite relief, the two packed up immediately after awakening and headed west, towards Silver City.

Thank goodness I’m turning north from here!

What a stroke of luck that my song wouldn’t take me the same direction as they. I was glad that at least Lem and Jeff weren’t looking for me.

Turn north onto the new road, sunrise to the east

March on between layer cake, fam-ly hills on right

Look out for the rattlesnakes, when the weather’s warm

Eyes sharp, I ambled along with Burl, me picking and eating greens along the way. About midday we came to the intersection the song mentioned.

The layer cake butte jutting up to the west, striped tan, reddish brown and beige. Facing north again I could see the family hills, two looming hills near the road, then three smaller peaks, the little sisters, set just behind them, to the east. We walked along the base of the parents, keeping just out of sight from the road.

The day continued uneventfully except for the occasional whack of the rabbit stick on some unsuspecting squirrels we happened upon, which seemed to be in great abundance along the towering, creaky cottonwoods.

My mind wandered to my mother, father, brother, and the virus that changed a pretty good childhood into a nightmare.

Daddy curled up in his and Mama’s bed, skin turning a strange mottled rust color, and his eyes only seeing inwards, even when they were open. He died in that bed as my brother Seth did in his own.

During the days of the virus, Mama kept glancing anxiously at me, eyes wide and haunted, searching my face for the spots, as she tried to comfort Daddy and Seth. So many of our neighbors were dying and news of the virus was all that was on television, even as wide-eyed commentators kept disappearing, replaced by others, so we knew what to expect.

Mama barely spoke to me, except to ask for more damp washrags to cool their foreheads as they seemed to sink more deeply into their beds, like emaciated sloths that had fallen asleep in quicksand, descending ever farther away from us, into the greedy arms of death. Seth died one morning, and Daddy the afternoon of the same day.

Mama carried Seth to the car alone, face as stony as our concrete driveway but tears falling fast, squeezing his body so hard against her it was as if she was trying to press her own life into him, hoping one last time to revive him.

Mama and I carried Daddy together. Back seats laid flat, we arranged Daddy on his side, legs bent towards his chest so he looked like a fetus, like he hadn’t even been born yet, much less having died. Seth she set next to Daddy, curled so he looked like he and Daddy were having a friendly cuddle.

We drove them in silence to the mass grave. The giant grave had been dug in an empty lot in our neighborhood by a big yellow bulldozer which roared and huffed like a demon. We carried Seth and Daddy, laying them next to those who would be their companions for eternity.

Mama wept uncontrollably, fat tears pouring one after another down her pale, gaunt cheeks, streaming onto the grimy Gila River Festival t-shirt she had been wearing for days.

I didn’t cry right then, though I would make up for it later. I felt like I was watching one of those apocalypse movies, so popular then, hoping that pretty soon the heroes would save the right people and we’d feel hope again. My chest felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and my brain with spaghetti instead of brains.

I just couldn’t sort it all out. How could life be one way for so long, and so suddenly be a completely different thing? It wasn’t like it was just a personal tragedy either, as can happen in any family. This was happening to everyone. Everyone on the planet. No exceptions. The scope was literally unimaginable to me then, and it still was. Billions of people dead in a matter of weeks.

The stench of death alone was almost enough to kill the rest of us.

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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