The Rev tried to tell me once that everything is part of God's plan. I think he was trying to make me feel better at the time, so I didn't tell him what I thought of that. If this is all God's plan, then He maybe could use some advice. You know?
But if you don't believe there's a plan, then everything that happens just…..happens. No reason.
I don't know which is worse..
I guess I'm not gonna die right away. I'm kinda surprised to be awake again. I really thought I'd had it. So it takes me a minute to realize what woke me up.
The puma paws me again, hooking her claws in my shoulder and pulling me toward her.
I don't think she expects me to be awake either, 'cause when I make a noise and say, "Let go of me, you mother," she does. She unhooks her claws, and just watches me, breathing open-mouth.
"Dammit….dammit…." I think things hurt worse when you're cold. I'm trying to yell, but can't quite manage it. "….go back over there and sit down."
If I didn't know better, I'd say she's thinking about it. Then she raises her paw to bat at me again.Suddenly her head is up in the air, her ears are pricked forward. She crouches, listening. The dogs again---they seem closer now. She looks at me. "Yeah, you better scram. No matter how good you think I'm gonna taste. They might be looking for you." A snarl---directed toward the baying and barking, not me---and then she leaps up on the bank above my head and is gone.
It's possible the dogs are a wild pack; in that case I'm still screwed, but it's also possible there's people with these dogs. I listen as the noise comes closer, closer…..waiting for the animals to find me…...
Arliss offered to untie me. After the boys got me ready for my ride in the trunk, she came in and sat down on the floor next to me.
"Hey, honey," she said. "I'm not mad."
"How'd you like to run off with me? I'll untie you and we'll go to Bolivia together."
She laughed. For a she-devil, she had a real sweet laugh. It was kinda creepy.
"And if I untie you, will you give me what I want?"
She leaned down and twined her arms around my neck. "You're so naughty. I don't know if I can believe you….I know---how 'bout you give me a kiss? I'll be able to tell if you mean it if you give me a kiss."
I know if I'd been smart, I woulda done whatever I had to do to get her to untie me; and I think she mighta---maybe---if I coulda played along. But there was just something about it…..whether it was remembering her tongue on my skin, licking blood off my chest, or maybe thinking about her giggles the time I couldn't keep from making a noise when she hurt me suddenly……she turned my stomach.
I couldn't make myself open my mouth to her. Couldn't do it. Not for a chance to escape, not even for a chance to kill her.
Not even to keep from getting thrown out on a snowy hillside to freeze to death. Stupid, huh?
I waited for her to get mad and kick me or something. She stood up. "You're just a chump, after all," she said. And she walked away..
The dogs are going past upslope. Not coming down here at all. I listen as the barking slowly recedes in the distance in the other direction. I let my head fall back against a tree root and look up at the sky..
Feel like I should keep trying to stay awake, keep trying to think of something….but I also feel like that's kinda stupid. Can't get loose, no one's gonna find me, no place for me to go. Nothing to think of, nothing to do. So?
When Lynn got pregnant the second time, the Doc warned us not to get our hopes up. He said he wanted to monitor everything, to find out exactly what happened, so he'd know what to do next time.
So we tried not to hope, tried not to want it. I'm not sure that wasn't worse. Wanting something so bad, something you're pretty sure you're not gonna get…..and then you tell yourself you don't want it and you try to believe it. No hope, no joy….it was bad.
And when she lost it, just like the Doc said she probably would, I didn't know how to feel. Part of me was relieved it was over; and part of me ached just like the first time..
I think I'm giving up. I think I'm gonna close my eyes and go back to sleep…..it's getting warmer here in my little hollow….do what the Rev told me to do once….leave it all in God's hands….see what he does with it…...
Wake up. There's voices, up above somewhere, I can hear 'em.
Gotta wake up, dammit. I'm not shaking, but I still can't seem to yell worth a shit. They'll never see me back in here, under this tree, move, move, come on, Wendell-----but it's hard, nothing wants to work right…….
Finally out on the mud, I manage to get out in the open, and I stop and listen……nothing. Dammit. Move a little farther…and slice my shoulder on something. Must be something sticking up outta the mud.
There's no voices, I can't hear anything anymore, but there's a piece of rock as sharp as a knife sticking up outta the mud…..Something one of those old Indians left for me, I guess..
And it works. Sawing through the twine around my wrists takes a while 'cause I can't see what I'm doing, and I slice up my wrists and hands a little, but it works and eventually my hands are loose.
Straightening out my legs is hard, I'm pretty stiff, but as soon as I manage it, my feet and my broken leg start to hurt like a sonuvabitch again. I suppose that's good, it means the blood is flowing again, but it's hard to take.
I don't know whose voices I heard, or where they were or where they went. Maybe I dreamed them. And I don't know what I'm gonna do next, or where I'm gonna go. Don't know much, do I? But I guess I'm gonna live after all. For a while anyway.
I put the rock and the twine in my pocket.
So was it God, do you think, meddling? Or was it just luck?
Thinking about trying for the highway again---but dragging a broken leg means I ain't gonna be walking. Crawling's gotta be faster than scooting, right? Maybe I'll go along the river for a while and see if I can find an easier way up than the one I came down..
"So, you and Lynn…..um, you're like, what……living in sin?" Robert asked, holding a piece of meat against his eye.
I don't know whether it was Lynn or Nancy that saw what happened, but when we went back in the house, Nancy handed Richard his dinner for tomorrow, and Lynn gave me a bag of ice, and they shooed us out to the chairs in the backyard.
I thought of a smart answer to his question, but decided he deserved a straight one. He's OK when he's not being a jerk.
"It doesn't feel like sin."
He thought about that for a minute. "It doesn't look like it, either."
"The Reverend'd say it was."
"Well, yeah---that's his job."
There were fireflies everywhere that night, blinking at each other, catching your eye at odd moments.
"Lynn brought me out here to take care of me when they let me outta the hospital, and we just sorta……..it just kinda….."
Richard nodded. "I getcha."
Sometimes I'd mistake a firefly blinking for a star twinkling overhead. It's hard to tell sometimes when there's no moon and it's pitch dark, the air so black you can't see where you're going.
Fireflies always make me smile. I used to chase 'em when I was a kid; catch 'em and let 'em crawl on my hand for a while before they flew away.
Don't care about stars if there's fireflies.
"Lynn's not pregnant anymore. But you're getting married anyway," Richard said.
I nodded. He nodded, too.
"You wanna beer?"
Richard asks me every time I'm here if I want a beer, even though I always say no. He knows I'm gonna say no when he asks. But he always asks me just the same.
He leaned over and smacked me on the knee a coupla times. "I'm gonna get one. Be right back." He got up.
"I guess I'll take one, too. Thanks."
He nodded and went up the porch steps. I laid my head back and watched the fireflies bob and weave, slow dancing in the air above me..
Starts to snow again. Coming down pretty good. Makes everything so quiet---like everything muffled in blankets. No noise at all.
When I hear a voice again, it surprises me, and I don't react right away. Which probably saves my life. If I'd been quicker, I woulda yelled right away, and I'd be dead.
"Why the hell couldn't you do what you were supposed to do in the first place, ya idiot?" That voice belonged to Blonde Hair. The guy that has my jacket. "I heard Tony tell you to take care of him and then get rid of him. So you just throw him out. What, you think he's gonna do himself?"
"Nobody told me to shoot him. How'm I supposed to know what I'm supposed to do if nobody tells me?" This is the little red-haired guy that brought me out here.
Sound doesn't carry too far through the snow coming down; they're not too far away. I get back into the shadow of a tree. Slowly stand up on my good leg and lean against the trunk. Try to ignore the pain in my other leg. Wait.
"You know, this makes me real happy, having to come out here in the middle of the night and look for this guy so's I can pull the trigger on him once. I had a date tonight, you know? And she was hot, you know? Dammit."
"If it's Betty you had a date with, you weren't gonna get any anyway-so shut up."
"Yeah, she thinks you're a bum."
"So where the hell is he? Are you sure this is where you left him?"
"Yeah, I dumped him up over there, above those bushes. He's gotta be here."
"So why can't we find him? I don't think you know where you left him."
"Who knows? Maybe some wild animal dragged him off. You go that way, and I'll take this direction."
"Oh, great, now I gotta worry about meeting a bear?"
I'm one helluva lucky guy. I couldn'ta handled two of 'em at the same time. But they split up---I can hear one moving up and away from me, the other one's kinda off to the left---and now I gotta a chance. And a choice to make.
In my pocket I got a really sharp rock and some twine. I could try to cut his throat, but there'd be a lot of sawing involved, even as sharp as the rock is, and with one bum leg I'm not sure I could hang on to him and saw at the same time. And there's always the chance he could make enough noise, before I get through the parts of his neck I need to get through, to bring his partner back.
If I use the twine, all I gotta do is pull and hang on. He can't yell. It takes longer, and it's gonna be hard on my hands, but it's safer.
He's got a flashlight. And he'll have a gun. And if I kill them both, I'll have a car. OK.
The only problem is I can't go after him. He's gotta come to me.
So I get ready, braced on my good leg against the tree trunk, and with the twine tied in the loop I need……and then I say, "Hey.".
In the movies, it's easy to strangle somebody. Put a string around his neck, pull on it for half a minute or so while he stands there and lets you do it---bang, you're done. Simple, quick, tidy.
Gotta figure none of those movie people ever actually strangled anybody. I know from experience it takes maybe twenty minutes. If you let loose before you're done, you gotta start over. And your victim doesn't usually cooperate.
I figure if he pushes back against me, I got the tree at my back, so we're not going anywhere. If he goes forward, that's OK, we'll end up on the ground and I'll be on top. I can keep him from thrashing around too much just with my body weight. And I don't wanna be underneath when he dies anyway.
Death is always messy. Always. Sure, maybe there's no blood this way, but there's other stuff.
I bet you've seen movies where the hero (or the villain) strangles his guy, and then changes clothes with the dead guy so the other guys don't notice him.
That's bullshit. There's no way anybody's gonna want a dead guy's pants. No way. I'm kinda hoping we do end up on the ground face first, so I don't have to dump the piss outta the guy's shoes before I put them on..
Whaddaya know? It's Blonde Hair. The guy that took my jacket off me so Arliss wouldn't mess it up..
I don't know what kind of twine this is, but it does about the same as piano wire, or maybe his neck is just soft; he bleeds all over my hands and his shirt. Otherwise it goes just about like I figured..
First thing to do now is find his gun. He dropped it when he felt the loop drop around his neck-idiot-and it got covered up with snow in the scuffle, but it's here somewhere. I need to find it before his buddy comes back.
He kicked me at one point, and of course, got my broken leg. I don't have time to sit down and howl about it, though, I gotta find the gun.
Dammit. It's gotta be here.
I hear a yell, and Red Hair comes from over the rise just as I put my hand on the grip and raise it up. My fingers are so cold and the cuts from where I had the twine wrapped around my hand hurt, and I can't get my finger past the trigger guard. But I point it anyway; Red Hair yelps, spins, slips on the snow, and then scrambles back over the edge of the rise, and I can't see him anymore. I get back behind my tree, waiting for the bullets to come zinging past……but there aren't any. Don't hear anything. Till a few minutes later, I hear a distant engine roar that recedes pretty fast.
So the car's gone. Guess I was just wishing for everything to be too easy. I probably couldn'ta driven the damn thing with only one leg, anyway. At least I got shoes now, if I can get 'em on. My toes are so cold I don't know if I can do that……and actually I can't get a shoe on the left foot. Can't pull on the leg to get it up where I can reach it. Impossible. Hurts too bad. I gag a coupla times---not just from the pain, the smell here's not too good, either---but of course there's nothing in my stomach to come up.
I've got his jacket---not mine, this one's blue---and his coat, and there's even gloves in the coat pocket. His hat ended up underneath him when he fell, and it's nasty now, so I'm leaving it. I take the bloody twine off his neck and stuff it back in my pocket.
I hate to put my hands in his pockets, but I do. Candy, a rubber, keys, wallet, some extra ammunition, and a pocketknife. I keep the pocketknife and the ammo.
The snow's really thick now. The body's almost covered already. If Red Hair comes back with reinforcements, they won't even be able to find it unless he remembers where it is, and then they'll probably have to trip over it.
I gotta sit back and rest for a minute. I feel a little dizzy---that's partly from my leg and partly 'cause I haven't had anything to eat in three days---and still real tired. These little naps ain't enough to do me much good. Can't sit still too long, though, or I'll be covered up with snow just like my buddy here..
I wish I had some way to let Lynn know I'm here so she wouldn't worry. OK, I know that's stupid, if I could let her know something, it oughta be to come and get me. But she hasn't heard from me for three days, and I don't want her to make herself sick. I wonder how soon it'll be before Patty calls in the reinforcements. Lynn's family. I never understood all the jokes about in-laws before I met Lynn's family.
She's got family all over the place, here, there, and everywhere, it seems like. I don't really know too many of them very well except for Patty and Lynn's Aunt Sophia, 'cause the first time we went to a family gathering I guess I disgraced myself. This big jowly creep gave Lynn a pat and a good squeeze on the rear right after we got there, and I lost it. Turned out to be her Uncle Fred, who pats everybody on the rear, all the women, anyway-I still think he's just a dick-but everybody puts up with it and always has. That's what I got told. Lynn hustled me outside and let me have it, and then when we went back in, I ended up sitting in the corner by myself. Poor Uncle Fred got made over by the ladies, and I got a lot of hostile looks, so I didn't meet anybody else. Oh, except for Ernie, fifteen and scrawny, who wanted to know if he could learn to do that to Uncle Fred, too. He and I got along pretty good, till his mother saw him sitting with me.
I got the "I can't take you anywhere" speech from Lynn when we got home.
"Are you telling me you never wanted to deck good old Uncle Fred?"
And then she giggled. "Oh, honey, everybody wants to deck Uncle Fred. But you just can't deck everybody that annoys you. Not everybody is as gentlemanly as you, you know." Gentlemanly? Not grabbing every woman by the ass is gentlemanly? "That's one of the things I love about you." And she kissed me.
So I wasn't in the doghouse too long. But there was something about the whole thing that really bugged me.
I met her Aunt Sophia a month or so before the Decking of Uncle Fred, but she doesn't think too much of me either. See, Lynn's family doesn't have any idea what she used to do for a living. None of 'em, not even Patty, I don't think. Can you believe that? I don't know how she managed that. Anyway, it makes it real hard for me to talk to them, 'cause they keep asking me questions about when we lived in LA, and how come none of the family got invited to the wedding there, and how did I meet her, and on and on and on………I know Sophie thinks I'm retarded, 'cause when she was grilling me, I just gave up and started answering every question with, "I don't know", "I can't remember", or "You'll have to ask Lynn".
So I was the outsider in her family……the Moron Who Decked Uncle Fred. And so we didn't get invited to everything.
'Course, after going to a couple more of these family dinners, I decided I didn't really wanna be one of that gang..
I'm going in the direction the road oughta be in, but it ain't here. Even allowing for the fact that I'm crawling insteada walking, and that dragging my bum leg after me slows me down, I still shoulda hit the highway a long time ago. Either I got turned around in the dark, or the highway doesn't go where I think it does.
The sun's gonna be up pretty soon. Still colder'n shit. Snow's still coming down pretty thick and heavy. I have to raise up and shake the snow off my back every so often.
Lucky for me, the wind doesn't come up until after the sun does. I'm thinking I'm gonna be caught in a helluva blizzard pretty soon …..I'm looking around for cover…….there's a little break in the snow…….and downslope a ways I see a big snow-covered pile of something that doesn't look natural. I figure it's wood. It takes me a few minutes to find the cabin that goes with it, but it's there, and I find it, and when I manage to push the door open and crawl inside, it's warm.
It's warm. I sprawl on the floor and kick the door shut. And look up into the barrel of a shotgun pointed at my head.
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