November 26, 2009

Hunters Chapter 4

"Funny thing about Martians. They were probably the most advanced society, that is, they related to each other on a level we never could, until they ran afoul of us, of course."

Earl stirred the embers. His two companions had an adamant trust in him when it came to two things: the building of the fire and the nature of Martians. He disclosed his knowledge only when starting or reviving his fires and they never knew whether his trademark gestures were part of the ritual of the fire or the story. It was clear only that they were inseparable. Monica used to say that the way he sniffed at the smoke just made him delusional but she followed him anyway for the stories.

Earl's mouth remained hidden behind his mustache as he droned on. The stories rarely presented entirely new material to his disciples, but there was always something, if they listened hard enough, for them to consider.

"They're severed now, you see. Lost and alone. An empty sense of propriety is the only reason they still greet each other in the old way. It won't last more than another generation or two. "

Jackson punctuated a snort by abruptly shoving the rabbit onto the spit. "Don't sound much different from us, Earl." Monica kicked him in the shin without sparing him an annoyed glance.

"They're digging now, some of them. The ones with a shred of hope left still believe. Maybe there's a reason they're here on Earth, maybe a connection is possible. Some primal sense is leading them underground leaving open the question. Do we follow?"

Earl dove away from the fire as a burst of flame came at him, singeing his already white mustache. "Well, sir. I reckon that's burning." He glanced at Monica who was still focused only on him. "That's about it, girl. That's the show. Hear anything interesting this evening?"

Monica shook her head. "Do you really think that's what we should do? Follow them?"

Earl produced a tarnished silver flask with a State of Texas emblem and took an infinitesimal pull. "Did I say that? Sure doesn't sound like me."

Jackson arranged the skinned rabbit over the flames, too close to the embers for Monica's tastes. He returned her stare. "Charred on the outside, juicy on the inside just the way you like it. Unless you'd like to take over."

"Well, sir. It's getting a bit too hot around for me," mumbled Earl as he stumbled away from the fire. Finding a smooth rock a few dozen feet away, he plopped down and faced away from the fire and his companions.

The moon was nothing but a sliver in the dark blue evening sky. They weren't close to their destination; he'd seen trees, a canopy hiding all trace of the sky. He wasn't sure if he should be running toward his visions or away from them, but having no idea where he was anyway, he just followed his nose. When he held the flask above his head, he saw the flames dancing in the silver reflection. State of Texas, a cow's skull, something from before. The flask was a damn good find.

The flames disappeared from the picture. "Well, you just couldn't wait to come over, could you?"

Monica put her back against the opposite side of the rock and focused her eyes on Jackson's movements. For a man with such a thuggish approach to cooking, he certainly enjoyed doting on his future meals, adjusting the rabbits placement in the fire every few seconds. Producing a hand-full of salt from his pocket, he administered it in pinches over the sizzling carcass.

"Well, Jackson isn't much of a conversationalist and I can keep an eye on him from here."

"I can't say I'm much of one either, girl," replied Earl, waving his arm in an absent offer of whiskey that he knew would be declined.

"Were you serious at the end there, Earl? Digging? Sometimes I think you wake up early and just pull shit out of your ass."

Earl was used to her affected skepticism and responded with only a cough. The words that came out of him weren't really his and he counted on Monica to interpret them more than he'd care to admit. He dug his hand into the sand and let it run through his fingers.

"They never did anything like that before. You know that. Everyone knows that. "

That was all she'd say on the matter. Earl knew the way her mind worked; she needed to sleep on the new stuff for at least one night. Instead of responding, he reclined further into the sand and asked her, "Will you tell me the story again? About the day we met..."

Monica sighed. "If you can call that meeting," she retorted. She'd told him the story a hundred times and had refined it into its current version. Still, she knew of its meditative effect for both of them and it would be some time before Jackson declared the charred rabbit ready.

"I still don't believe you don't remember, but all right." She ran her hands through her black hair as she began her story in a monotone that gradually became more animated. "I was working in that tavern just outside of Providence, serving, bringing travelers beer, food, or whatever. I hated it. I remember seeing you. You looked a lot younger then, especially without that stupid mustache that makes you look sixty. You were messing with the fire, something that we didn't like the customers doing, but it was slow that night and the owner was in the back somewhere and I just didn't care much.

"Anyway, four big bearded guys rolled in about then, must have been around 11, I bet. They were carrying..." Here she paused, squinting at Jackson as he licked some of the rabbit juices off his finger.

"They were carrying something between them. I couldn't see right away, but when they got inside, I saw it was a long pole with a body hanging off it. One of them. They were all laughing to themselves like a bunch of drunks, looking like damn cannibals if you asked me. 'Beer!' they yelled at me. That's when it started thrashing around. The damn thing was alive. One of them turned around and just hit it with his fist and that shut it up for a bit.

"But there was no way I was serving them, right? The owner, Jack, he came out when he heard the commotion. When he saw what they were carrying in, he nearly flipped. He told them to get the hell out, of course, but they were all riled up and pretty soon he was trying to negotiate with them. One beer and then they'd leave, all right? Of course, that never works and Jack should have known it. So I brought them their beers.

"Meanwhile they'd just thrown it on one of the tables, started pouring some of their beers on it. After a while I saw that Jack was drinking too, which I'd never seen him to do. When he disappeared into the office, I just brought them out a few pitchers and came and sat next to you. You were just sitting staring at it, the whole time. But you might have been worthless and weird, but I liked the look of you better than them and you were big enough that maybe...

"And then it all happened real fast. Jack came out with a shotgun yelling for them to get out. One of them just jumped and reached for something. Jack shot him and he fell right across the thing on the table. I just sat and watched and Jack seemed more surprised than me. That's when they all jumped on him. Cut him open like a pig, yelling but also laughing a little. I just grabbed hold of you.

"They were all occupied with Jack even though he must have died right away. It got loose somehow. You should have seen, the way you kept staring at it. Anyway, just in a flash. One two three. They were all dead without even a scream between them. And it was staring at us, as close as I've ever seen one dead or alive, but all I could really see were its eyes, glowing a kind of green. Not red like they're supposed to be. It seemed like it was looking right at you and then it disappeared out the door just like that.

"After all that, you just opened your mouth and said, 'that's new. They've never done that before.' That was it. No explanation.

"You lit out that morning. And I followed you because I couldn't think of much else to do. Actually, it was the same reason I sat next to you the night before. You may be a freak, but I feel safe around you."

Finishing her story, Monica stood up and walked toward Jackson. He was brandishing a charred rabbit on a stick as if it was a new toy and she was a child. "Come on now, darling, you know you want some of this."

Monica shoved him hard in the chest as she took hold of the stake in her other hand and, without ceremony, dug her teeth into the rabbit's burnt flesh. "You know what I like, Jackson," she said, spitting out a bone. Taking the knife from her belt, she cut off the rabbit's head. Holding it cupped in her hands, she walked over to Earl, kneeled before him, and held it under his nose. He smiled past her at the moon, took the rabbit, and nodded.


grainne proinseas said...

dope.keep it coming.

Theresa said...

brilliant, as usual.
I thought Monica's story was very clearly in a young female's voice. well done.

Also, I feel like you should say this each time you light the petchka
"Well, sir. I reckon that's burning."