fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Nine. {fiction}

 

Follow Mimbres curving path, to the Frog boulder

Then dirt track to the east, leave the river now

Turquoise house, they are our friends, happy to see you

Burl and I had settled into a companionable rhythm, and our tenth day of travel started out predictably enough. Rise, eat leftovers from dinner for breakfast, load up Burl, and follow the instructions in the day’s stanza.

The sky was clear and sunny, but a chilly steady wind kept me bundled up, scarf wrapped twice around my neck. The new leaves rustled so hard, they sounded like heavy rainfall as we made our way back to the waterway.

The narrow river bubbled briskly over the volcanic rocks that had made their way into its bed, and the birds chattered madly, hopping from one rock to another, heads turning to and fro, searching for breakfast. Amidst this busy conversation, I paused now and then to gather greens, eating some and tying the rest in loose bundles over Burl’s back.

Eventually we came to a spot in the river where it took a particularly sharp turn, and I could see the water hit the bank hard enough to turn back on itself, forming a deep, slow-moving whirlpool. I perched on a large flat rock beside the pool searching its depths, and was rewarded with the sight of shadowy flickering movements along the bottom.

I pulled a fishing spear from Burl’s back, one that I had made from river cane in hopes of finding such a treasure trove.

It had been years since I had speared fish with Daddy, but I did remember that I had to hold very still until the very last instant before thrusting it into the water. It was also important to adjust one’s aim for the way water distorts things visually. A lovely large Gila trout wandered into view, and of course I missed, spooking the other fish in the attempt.

A warm-up period always seemed necessary when spear-fishing after a long hiatus. I was hooked though, even if the fish weren’t just yet. I settled myself in for as long as necessary, shutting my eyes, face upturned, feeling the continuous breeze caressing my face as I waited until the fish forgot I was there.

It took several rounds of this before I had four fat trouts strung onto cordage and wrapped in a large bandanna to keep the flies off. By the time I had built a fire and cooked the fish, it was nearly noon, but I was glad to lose a little distance for such good food. I ate two of them right away, scorching my fingertips a bit at first, so eager was I to taste that tender, flavorful flesh. The other two I wrapped up for later.

I found the frog-shaped boulder set above the somewhat overgrown but deep parallel ruts of the dirt track that we were supposed to take east. I walked up the rise to the frog boulder to see where the road would take us when a loud buzzing sound erupted next to my right foot. I leapt so suddenly I landed awkwardly in the loose scree, twisting my ankle hard and falling to sit hard upon the sharp stones.

I spotted the rattler several yards away, sliding as fast as it could away from me into the undergrowth. I hadn’t been in any danger after all. Rattlers are not particularly aggressive, preferring to slither quickly away if threatened, but they will strike as fast as lightning if you suddenly box them in somewhere, and they are deadly. A rattlesnake buzz always sounds close.

I sat in the gravel holding my ankle, Burl still looking wide-eyed and skittish. The snake continued its way through the underbrush, so I knew we were safe from it. My ankle was another matter.

Carefully I raised myself upright, first keeping my weight on my uninjured left foot. Gingerly I put a little weight onto my right foot, and was rewarded with a sharp shooting pain that felt like it went from my ankle straight through my head. I leaned panting against the boulder, surveying the situation.

By this time, it was only a couple of hours to sundown and there was a cluster of trees that, combined with the shelter of the frog boulder, prevented any passersby from seeing us easily. Discouraged from the little distance we had made and stunned by the pain of my sprained ankle, I figured it would be best to just hunker down there for the night.

I managed to get the packs off of Burl’s back and picket him next to some tall grass. I sat on the ground, tossed my wool blanket open, and rolled myself inside. I figured we would just get a good night’s sleep, then a fresh start in the morning.

But I figured wrong.

The coyotes whined just a little too loud and a skunk wandered just a little too close. My ankle throbbed so much I started worrying that I may have fractured it instead of just spraining it. Morning finally came, and Burl looked like he slept as badly as me. Both of us the worse for wear, I loaded up Burl while standing on my good foot, slung my bad foot across him, and shimmied up to ride.

Burl was not happy about this arrangement at all, since I had walked almost the entire way, only burdening him with water, my satchel, and my bedroll. He huffed and rolled his eyes at me, and I could have sworn he was actually dragging his feet in protest. I hoped the rutted old road would take us to the friend’s house as promised. I wondered how many of them survived.

I couldn’t remember who they might have been. Even if there were people there, they may not be happy to see me, especially injured as I was.

Following the dirt road, we finally came upon the turquoise house. The sun still rode high in the sky since we had split the stanza between two days, but I liked the idea of a safe place to rest while my ankle healed, friends or no friends. As it happened, there was a giant V painted in red on the side, against the fading bright turquoise, indicating that the whole household had been struck by the virus.

When the virus was burning like a wildfire before a gale wind across the land, people started painting these Vs on houses to warn others not to enter and risk exposure. That danger was long past now, so I directed Burl towards it.

The house was a classic ranch-style design, frame and stucco exterior, all on one level, sporting a generous covered wood plank porch along the long front side. Several colorful pots as big as barrels sat along the front edge of the porch, with thick tangles of weeds spilling over the edges. Likely they had been filled with pansies or carnations or something equally cheerful and tame before the virus.

My stomach sank as I approached, anxious about what I might find. I didn’t hear any sounds coming from inside the house, just the front screen door flapping in the wind, held to the door frame by just one hinge. I could see that the place hadn’t been lived in for a long time.

Dead grasses lay thick around the house, leaves and other debris had piled up along the base, especially on the north side, where the wind blew strongest.

I slid off of Burl cautiously, and limped to the door. I pushed past the flapping screen door, turned the weathered knob, and stepped inside. My skin rippled with goosebumps, up my legs and across my arms. Other than the dust that had accumulated over the years and a lot of cobwebs, the place was eerily neat and tidy. The throw pillows on the couch were arranged perfectly.

The dining room table was set as if for dinner, for four. Placemats, plates, glasses, silverware, napkins, and a floral centerpiece that must have been nice before it dried up and died. Coincidentally, and very conveniently, I spotted a cane in a tall umbrella stand by the door, and gratefully made use of that to save my aching appendage.

The kitchen was as well-ordered as the living room and dining room. Dishes neatly placed in the cupboards, dish-drainer cleared. Pots and pans hung on the rack above the stove. There was even a red-and-white checkered dishtowel draped over the handle of the black oven door.

It was as if someone cleaned the house especially well before the arrival of their special guest, Viral Death. Or perhaps, soon before its departure.

I hobbled down the hallway with my cane to investigate further. The bathroom in the hall was just as orderly as the rest of the house. Had someone removed the dead inhabitants and buried them, then cleaned up as a show of respect?

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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