I wake to a blast of cold air pushing its way into the boxcar. My first instinct is to reach out and grab my blanket but then I realize, I gave it to my sister to keep warm through the night. We are at the tail end of winter and in the Piedmont the mornings can be unforgivably cold. I pull myself off the worn out mattress and begin to navigate my way through the darkness to the other side of our "house". It is still dark outside but the sun will be rising soon and with the sun I hope will come a warmer day.
My hands search through the darkness for the table that holds a lantern and a book of matches. I find the book without much difficulty and strike a match to light the lantern allowing the boxcar to become filled with a faint orange glow. I can now make out all of our possessions most of which are beyond repair. For example, a leather couch resides along the back wall directly across from the boxcar door. It has several veining cracks permitting the foam stuffing and fibers of cotton to spill out. Beside the couch is an oak dresser with four drawers. This is perhaps our most valuable possession as it is in good condition. The top two drawers belong to me while the bottom two belong to my sister, Echo. Though we do not own many clothes the dresser contains many other items that are valuable to us. For instance, my sister keeps a small locket in the bottom drawer that opens to reveal a picture of our father and mother.
I take a slow gait towards the couch and sit quietly before slipping on my thick brown shoes. I turn my head to my sister who is tucked tightly in our blankets with one hand wrapped around a shabby teddy bear. My mind begins to wonder. There was a time when we had warm beds to sleep in, running water, electricity and supper could be counted on every night. That all changed when The Republican Army invaded our house. I remember my sister crying uncontrollably while my mother did everything she could do to protect us. I remember my father being questioned and beaten for information about the Insurgents. Then, they took them away to live in a concentration camp leaving me and my sister behind. The memory ends with a new surge of cold air bleeding through the cracks of the boxcar's door. Echo is only twelve years old. I am five years older. I rise from the couch and pull open the top drawer of the dresser retrieving a small knife that I always carry when I go into the woods. The knife is kept in a small pouch that easily slides onto my belt. I then grab my backpack and jacket from the floor next to the table. I blow out the lantern letting the boxcar go dark. The sun will be up soon leaving enough light coming through the door for my sister to see when she wakes. I open the door and step out into the frigid morning.
When I close the door behind me I turn to be greeted by a Graveyard of boxcars scattered through out an open field. There's just over two dozen in total. Most of them are not habitable but a few hold families trying to scrape out a living under the Republics reign. In short, if the winters don't kill you then you can count on starvation too unless you know how to hunt or gather. Those fates can be avoided altogether if you are lucky enough to get a job in the city but most of those go to Republican citizens, not the poor or starving. My right hand reaches back to pull the jacket's hood over my head to block the wind. As I lower my hand it falls onto the red star that is sewed into the chest of the jacket. It is a patch that is worn by all those who do not fit the immediate criteria of the Republic. In short, it is a quick way to identify those who not support the Republic or value their religious way of life. Refusing to wear one will get you a quick bullet into the head though I can see how some chose that over the slow death of starvation.
The full moon hangs low in the west and provides enough light for me to see as I walk along a small patch of tilled land. Echo has been preparing it for the garden she plans to grow in the spring. When I reach the edge of the boxcar I slip under it to retrieve the bow and arrows I have hidden there. Since we do not live in the city weapons are easier to come by. Still, The Republican Army likes to make house calls to settlements that have sprouted up all around the city and since ours is the closest they visit here often. Being caught with a weapon is a bad thing. If you aren't put to death then you are shipped off to one of their camps and living in one of those is far worse than living in a boxcar wondering when your next meal is going to be. With the backpack over my shoulders, the bow in my right hand and the sheath of arrows in my other I begin to walk the winding path out of the Graveyard. Dawn is finally beginning to break.
It takes a full fifteen minutes to cross the field. Old railroad tracks snake their way into what use to be some sort of warehouse. Most of it as caved in making it a very unsafe place to tread. I have come to the conclusion the warehouse was abandoned years ago before I was born. Three miles to my east is the city of Colfindale, the place where I once lived with my family. To the north and west lies a vast forest filled with food if you know how to get it. To the south lies the farmlands where the Republican Officials in charge of Colfindale have outsiders, like me, grow their food and tend to the farm animals. Most of us, or at least the smart ones, stay far away from there. The forest, on the other hand, is owned by no one but one has to be careful. The forest holds many dangers like bears and cougars. There is wild plant life that will make you break out in a rash and cause you to itch just by coming in contact with it. I made that mistake last summer when I strolled through a large patch of it on my way home from a hunt. At first I didn't notice anything but by the time I got back to the boxcar I was covered in whelps the sizes of grapes. My sister informed me that it was poison ivy. Since then I have been careful where I step when I am in the forest.
I travel along a well beaten path as the sun slowly rises. There are only a handful of others who know how to hunt in the Graveyard. Those who don't usually gather materials that are needed like firewood or grow small gardens of vegetables like my sister. It was decided before our arrival that instead of slowly starving to death one by one those who took up residence in a boxcar would ban together. My sister and I had no problem with this but I was fourteen at the time and knew nothing about hunting or gardening. My sister took immediately on learning how to grow plants. I was given the task to gather firewood in the forest.
I remember well my first trip into the forest. I was given a wagon and told to fill it with as much wood as I possibly can. At the time I didn't understand why because it was the dead middle of summer. Who needs firewood when the temperature is eighty degrees at night? I later learned that one boxcar was used for essential necessities, like firewood because who wants to run out of that in the middle of the winter? I recall being very afraid because the forest was big and it felt like I was entering a massive jungle of thick trees with large green leaves but I had to suppress that feeling and be brave if I wanted me and my sister to survive. So I filled the wagon with twigs and branches. I took my time, slowly overcoming my fear allowing my mind to relax. Then, from out of no where there was a bright flash and a sudden clap of thunder. I looked towards the sky but the thick trees blocked most of my view. Rain suddenly began to fall and I started to panic. I began to pull the full wagon of wood back towards the Graveyard. The rain began to fall harder and the wind began to blow. I started to run but the weight of the wagon and my wet clothes slowed me down. I started to cry with the fear of the forest returning and before I knew it, I was lost. I decided to abandon the wagon and found a rock cave fifty yards away where I took shelter from the storm. Hours passed and the storm finally faded into the distance but by this time night was already beginning to fall. I had to make a decision to stay the night in the cave or try to find the Graveyard. I decided to stay. It wasn't until the next morning I heard the cries of my name. Some people at the Graveyard had gotten worried and searched for me all night. The next several trips I made into the forest were with other members of the Graveyard. They slowly began to teach me how to live off the land. One even gave me a compass that I no longer have to use but I still carry it in my backpack. But none of them taught me how to hunt. That I learned from someone else and because of our circumstance, I keep a great secret about.
I finally arrive at a clearing deep in the forest and I see him sitting on a fallen tree waiting. A smile forms across my face as I approach with every bone in my body suddenly warming. He has that effect.
"Russ," I hear him call. "I was beginning to wonder if you were coming."
"And miss out on spending this glorious morning with you?" I question with some sarcasm. He smiles and rises from his tree as I drop my bow and sheath of arrows. We interlock in a brace that eventually leads to a small kiss. His name is Aust. Our relationship is a cardinal sin in the Republic. If the Officials were to find out we'd be put to death instantly so we keep it a secret especially since he is Republican born. I haven't even told my sister or anyone at the Graveyard. Most who live outside of the Republics beliefs are widely accepting when it comes to sexual orientation, race, or religious background but that doesn't mean they can be trusted. All it takes is letting the wrong person know who then will turn you over to the Republican Officials just for a leg up in their society.
I pull away slowly from his warm body. He is about a foot taller than me and has dusty blond hair. Mine is dark brown. His eyes are a deep emerald green and mine are brown. He is one year older than I am and because of his Republican status in better shape than myself. "Have long have you been waiting?" I ask.
"About an hour," he replies with a crooked smile.
"Sorry," I state looking away almost embarrassed.
"Don't be. You're here now and that's all that matters," he states.
We pack up our gear and trek deeper into the forest. I met Aust about four months after we arrived at the Graveyard. It was the middle of the fall and I had been given the task to collect more firewood for the coming winter. By this time I already knew much about the woods and could be trusted to take the job alone without getting lost. My fear of the woods had also decreased and with each trip I ventured further and further into her arms. It was a cool afternoon when I met Aust. He was dressed in earth tone browns carrying a bow in one hand and a bag of dead rabbits in the other. Because I didn't immediately recognize him from the Graveyard my first thought was to run. But something in his eyes told me he was no threat. Long story short, we became friends. He taught me how to hunt using a bow and how to make traps for smaller animals. It was last summer when we fell in love. I have always believed that love knows no boundaries and that no one has the right to condemn those emotions. That's why I hate the Republic. They took my parents away and left me and my sister to starve to death. They control everything; power, water, food, and love. At first, I envied Aust because he had all the things we didn't. But time with him taught me that even some within the Republic suffer just as much as we do, just in a different way.
We walk for two hours. The conversation between us is light as he leads and I follow. I haven't come this far out in the woods not even under his guidance. "Where are we going?" I finally have to ask with curiosity.
"It's a secret," Aust turns and delivers with the crooked smile that always makes my knees want to buckle.
As we continue our journey into my unknown we travel up a steep hill littered with tall oaks and pines. Once atop we come to a clearing where Aust allows me to catch my breath. He is in much better shape than I am. The hill and it's obstacles have proven to be a slight challenge to me. Just off in the distance beyond a valley I can see a tall mountain.
"That's Kings Pinnacle," he speaks quietly with a scent of mystery
"I take it we are going there?" I ask letting my backpack drop to the ground covered in thick ferns and dead leaves.
Aust nods. "You can see as far as five miles from the very top on a clear day but the trip isn't easy. There are large rocks to get around and the higher we go the more the difficult it'll get."
I take his response as a challenge. "Then why are we resting?"
Aust laughs and looks at me with his deep green eyes, "Slow down, tiger. We'll get there. Let's have some water and rest first." He pulls a small canteen out of his backpack and takes a hefty swig finally passing it over to me. As we sit and admire the view in silence I suddenly wonder why he's showing me this place now. I've heard of Kings Pinnacle from others in the Graveyard but no one has ever been there. I recall stories that my parents have shared with my sister and me about how it use to be a popular destination a long time ago. It's tall and majestic. I can't wait to get through the valley and to the top.
Fifteen minutes pass and we begin our trip down into the valley. The sun continues to rise behind our backs and the morning is getting warmer. We pass by a small stream and then a large lake. There is a building just off to our right caved in from neglect with wood that has long since begun the process of rotting away.
"I think it use to be visitor center of some kind," Aust explains. He then takes me to what use to be a shed. The roof, like the visitor center, has caved in but I can make out several small canoes crushed under the weight. "I think this use to be a park of some kind."
I reflect on his statement and look back towards the lake. I can see families sitting down on a warm day having a picnic, talking and engaging in a good time with no care in the world. But those days are long gone. The evidence lies with the shed and visitor center now lying in decay. How sad it is The Republic lets such a beautiful place go to waste but also, not very surprising. They care only about themselves While the rest of use starve to death, they enjoy extravagant meals with crops and meat raised by our hands. They waste water and electricity and define love in the eyes of their God without so much as thinking about putting a bullet through someone's head who doesn't share their beliefs. Hypocrites. My facial features must have changed as I hear Aust ask if I'm okay.
"I'm fine," I answer with a small smile.
He crosses over to me and wraps his arms around me in a tight hug. My head against his chest I can hear his heart beat and the vibration in his chest as he says softly, "Everything is going to be okay." His words have only a little affect as I think to myself, We are doomed lovers meant to fail. I keep the thought to myself and take his comfort.
We continue our journey onward through a flat part of the forest. I follow close behind as we weave our way through more pines and oaks. Eventually, the hike begins to climb uphill. True to his description there are huge rocks we have to navigate around and I am losing the battle to catch my breath. We have to stop several times to drink water to continue up the mountain. It takes roughly forty five minutes to reach the massive wall of rock that stands before us. The wall sits at a seventy degree angle with ripples carved into it's side. It's almost like looking at a disturbed lake on it's side.
"I don't think there's away around that," I explain exhausted.
"Nope," he smiles, "we go up."
At this point I am firmly convinced he is out of his mind and
now I am beginning to wonder if he's actually been here or if I
am along on one of his exploring adventures.
"No, there is no way I am climbing that," I reply.
"Oh come on, where is your sense of adventure?"
"I left it at the bottom of the mountain, along with my set of
lungs," I tease though
every bit of me is serious about not climbing this wall. There are two things I strive not to put myself thought; tight enclosed spaces and heights. There is also the fear of falling and being buried alive. Aust is really pushing his luck.
"Do we really have to climb that?" I ask.
"Yes," he answers seriously with more tone than I would like.
"You know I don't like heights," I add half way giving in.
"Come on, you'll be fine and it'll be fun. I won't let anything happen to you and beside," he pauses, "it'll be worth it," lifting his eye brows twice.
He's lucky I love him. I give a faint smile and he knows he's won this battle.
"That's the Russ Winters I know. We'll leave our gear
He removes his backpack and drops his bow and arrows on the ground. I do the same and watch as he begins to make his way up the wall. He's a quarter of the way up before I even start. I take a deep breath and walk up to the wall placing one hand carefully into the rippled surface. "I can do this," I tell myself over and over in a hushed tone. And then I begin my climb. Aust moves quickly and with grace. I move at the speed of a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter and my boyfriend makes no secret of informing me so. As I climb I get heckles of encouragement and the occasional "don't look down" speech. Interesting self fact; telling me not to look down as I scale a wall will not help me move faster. It takes a solid half hour for me to get to the halfway point. Aust has fully made it to the top. Deep breaths. Long deep breaths with the occasional I'm so gonna kill you when I get to the top. When I finally do reach the top the trip is defiantly worth it. The view stretches for miles as there is not a cloud in the sky. I suddenly realize that I'm sweating because the climb took a lot out of me, in addition, I'm still shaking because I'm still scared out of my skin. But apparently the view is not my only reward. I feel Aust come up behind me and slowly wrap his arms around my waist. The embrace is strong and it's almost like every nervous cell in my body washes away. I turn my head back to look up at him. His eyes are closed letting a cool breeze wash over us as we bask in the warmth of the sun. I plant a small kiss on his lips and too close my eyes. Several minutes go by as we silently wish away the world of hate and injustice taking this moment for ourselves even if it's only a moment. I love him and despite the danger, despite the Republic standing in our way, there is nothing that will change that. I turn to face him with my hands tracing very bit his back. His shirt slowly comes off with mine following. Our kisses intensify. Carefully, more clothes are removed. Two hours pass. When we are finally getting dressed Aust tells me to hurry. I apparently have one more surprise. I now dread having to climb back down the wall but we aren't walking in that direction. As I hold his hand we travel over rocks and down a small beaten path. Finally, we come to a cave.
I stop and he looks to me, "It's safe."
I trust him and I don't want to make another scene like the one over the wall. I let him pull me along as we enter the mouth. He stops and lets go of my hand disappearing deeper into the darkness only to emerge with a torch in his hand. He lights it with a lighter he draws from his pocket. A small part of me wants to object to this new adventure, but we just made love. I can hardly back out of this engagement now. I let him pull me along as we move further into the tomb of nature. I ask, "Is it safe?"
"Of course," I can see him smile while leading the way.
We finally arrive at a large cavern. It has to be fifty feet high and at least two hundred feet wide. Somewhere, I can hear water dripping and then I can feel the knot in my chest begin to tighten. I take deep slow breaths.
"I found it about six months ago while I was out hunting,"
his voice is again soft. "Watch this," he says. He lowers the
torch and blows out the flame. I squeeze his hand and close my
eyes. "Open them," he commands with ease. I do so with a jaw
dropping result. I don't know what it is, but holy hell, the
cavern is a glow.
"What...What is it?" I asked dropping his hand and walking around.
"I don't know," he confesses. "But, it's beautiful, right?"
I don't offer a response in return. My silence and curiosity should be enough. "How?" I ask more to myself. I forget the question immediately and take in the the rainbow of colors that now splash on the walls of the cavern.
"No one else knows," he says. I turn to look at him from the distance I have traveled. "No one. Just you, and me. It's our place," he offers as if it's his to give. "I know it takes awhile to get here, and there's some climbing to do, but it's all worth it."
I continue to remain speechless wondering how it it's all done. "Are they gemstones? Diamonds?"
"I don't know," he's laughing uncontrollably now. I can tell he sense my wonder and excitement. "That's not all," he replies. "There's a river further on in. Fresh water. And I've been stock piling the place with wood and food."
"Food?" I ask cautiously.
I can't say if his next remark is to hide the mistaken comment. "Yeah, just in case." His smile and laugh are gone now and before me is a young man who's facial expressions now carry the weight of some worry.
"Aust, what are you not telling me?" I step towards him.
"It's nothing," he moves to evade the question. I head him off blocking his path. "It's just," he pauses, "the Insurgents." I know this conversation has now become much more serious. "I over heard my dad the other night. They are forming."
This takes a second to sink in. "They? The Insurgents or Republican Army?"
"Both. They know it's about to happen." I don't even have
to ask him to clarify, not with the look on my face.
Ouch. That word stings. "Are you sure?" I ask.
"The Republican Army grows bigger by the day in Colfindale and surrounding cities. My father's workload has increased ten fold. He's asking me to help."
"Yeah," he nods.
I take a step back with a deep breath. This feels worse than climbing the wall or being trapped in a dark cave. Aust rushes to me and takes my hand. "I won't fight. I won't fight for what I believe is wrong."
"This is why we are here," I release the statement.
Aust nods with confirmation. "I just wanted a place where we can be safe, where we can be who we are..."
"What about Echo?" I cut him off. "I can't leave her."
"She can come too," he adds quickly. "The three of us can stay here away from harm."
"I've never even told her about us," I say deleted of energy.
"I can help you with that," Aust tries to hold me in an
embrace. I back away needing a moment to clear my head. The
knot in my chest has returned.
"Revolution," I have to say the word a few times to let it sink in. The Insurgents have been around for as long as The Republic has been in power though they are fewer in number. Much fewer. As far as resources go, they own none, or at least that's what I've been hearing. "How?" I question myself silently. "The Insurgents are no match for this war," I turn to Aust.
"I know. Things are about to get much worse. I tried to get more information, but my father keeps his secrets well." Aust makes one more advance towards me and this time I yield. Minutes go by before we pull apart. "It's going to happen in Colfindale. I don't know when but it's soon."
"We need a plan," I reply coming on board with whatever he has to offer.
"The Republican Army will ignore the outer areas, like the Graveyard, and go directly for those in the city that are in favor of the Insurgents," explains Aust.
"So, we'll be safe?"
Aust shakes his head, "I don't know about that. You know some of the Republican Officials well enough to know they'll take down anyone who isn't for the cause even if you're just an Outsider trying to get by." He's right about that.
"The same is true for Insurgents," I add. I have never met one personally, but they blend in well. Any number of people in the city, hell, even the Graveyard can be Insurgent spies.
"When it happens it'll most likely be at night. I'll be in
the city, at home," he states. I look to him with terror.
"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. It's you who will need to
get you and your sister to safety, here."
"Here? I hardly know where I am," I pry myself away from him.
"Of course you do. I've taught you how to navigate the forest and you have your compass, right?"
I nod my head. He continues, "North East. Just head North East and you can't miss the mountain."
"What about you?" I ask.
"I'll find away out of the city. It won't be hard," he reassures me.
It doesn't help. "There will be bullets flying in every direction."
"I know how to get around. After all, every time that I've
needed to sneak out here to be with you it has worked." He has a
point. If anyone has a chance of getting out of the city if it
goes to war with the Insurgents, it's him.
We spend only a few more minutes in the cavern. He gives me the grand tour showing me where everything is that we'll need. There is plenty of firewood, canned food, and basic essentials. I don't know how long any of it will last but if we are careful there won't be a problem for at least several months. On the plus side, we both know how to hunt. "Wish I knew about this place three years ago," I joke. We leave the cavern by making our way deeper into the cave. Aust has relight the torch. We wind down rock as my mind completely shuts out the claustrophobia now taking on more deeper concerns. When we emerge from the cave we are on the other side of the mountain. It takes us a full hour to circle around back to get our gear. I give one final glance up the wall and hope that when we meet again, it will not be because I'll be seeking shelter from a war.
We take a different route back towards home. At first, this
upsets me because I need to know the way of the land, but I
understand why Aust has chosen to do so. He checks traps that he
has set along the way. Some of them are for animals like
squirrels and rabbits. We find a few which we both place into
our bags. At least I'll have something for trade at the market.
However, some traps are much bigger, like the pit he has covered
with old branches and dried leaves. It's about ten feet deep,
hardly a threat to anyone who falls in it but that isn't the
purpose of the trap. It's a way to inform him that someone or
something bigger than a small animal has been around the area.
As we continue home our trip is made mostly in silence. At
several intervals during the journey I purposely fall back a
distance just so I can rearrange the mental furniture. I want to
be there with Aust but there's no way that's going to happen.
So, I worry, though I do a good job at hiding it. Not once does
Aust ask if I'm okay or if I need to talk. Honestly, I'd rather
We finally come to the last leg of our journey, about a mile outside of Colfindale. At this point we have to split up. It's not recommended for us to walk together. Aust doesn't have to wear a red star on his clothes. The two of us being seen together would most certainly lead to devastating results. We part ways after a short kiss and I begin to circle around towards the west side of town. I stash my bow and arrows under a concealed bush that is surrounded by several trees because they would be immediately compensated if a Republican Officer found them on me. My backpack carries a few of the rabbits we found in the traps on our journey back. They'll fetch a decent price at the butchers.
Colfindale is a small city. Most people walk from place to place but there are a few automobiles that line the streets. As I walk along the street my thoughts turn to Aust. Did he make it home okay? Will his father expect him to fight if Revolution breaks out? I hardly think a Revolution will. This country is big and I just don't see how a small pocket of Insurgents plan to make a difference unless there's more that I don't know. I can't think straight anymore. My stomach roars and I realize the only thing I've had to eat today was several gulps of water. No wonder I feel weak.
Street lights begin to flicker on as the sun settles down for the day. The markets will be closing soon so I make haste towards main street where the butcher's shop is located. My path into the market place has me walking over the Pee Wee River. Funny name for a river as it's anything but small. Sitting at the entrance of the bridge is a homeless man who goes by the name of Troy. He's young with clothes worn to rags though the red star is clearly visible on his left chest. Sitting beside him is a dog. I'm not sure what kind of dog it is, but I know that they are inseparable. I try to imagine what his life must be like living on the streets looking for handouts or something to eat. Homelessness is a fact in any city or town and more often the Republican Officials attack the problem by weeding them out. But Colfindale, despite it's grasp in Republican power will sometimes overlook the issue. Troy and his small dog do no harm to anyone. Personally, I think they keep him around as a cruel form of amusement. He never offers a word to me and I never speak to him. We just bow our heads in a silent hello and go on with our personal struggles.
When I arrive at the butcher's I push open the door letting a bell ring to alert him of my presence. We exchange small talk as I trade him the rabbits. His name is Henry and he often talks about the weather. Most people his age do. I can hear his wife from the back of the store greet me. She comes out of a kitchen wearing an apron covered in blood but it's unmistakable that it also sports a red star. Most merchants who work in the city do not hold the Republics beliefs either and they are far too low on the food chain to be Republican, but they have one thing I don't; a trade. That is why they are still in the city. And let's face it, anyone will pay for anything regardless of your status in the system though I am certain because the butcher and his wife aren't Republican, they take a hit on the income. I thank them for their time and make my way out. The stores are closing now so I begin to make my way back home. When I arrive back at the bridge I notice Troy has a few visitors; Republican Officials. They are in essence, the police force complete with uniforms that come with handcuffs, night sticks, and a gun. Let's not forget the gun. I derail my route and take a hiding spot down a small alley. There are three total, each one standing over Troy with haughty postures. I don't like this. My gut is immediately telling me to turn around and find another way but I stay and watch. I am too far away to hear the conversation but from the looks of it Troy isn't enjoying much of what is being said. One of the Officers reaches down and picks up his dog. They all three laugh as Troy appears to be begging to be left alone. What happens next sends my heart into my throat. The Republican Officer takes the dog over the side of the bridge and begins to dangle him just over the river. Troy tries to get up to stop the man but he's beaten back down into place. I try to look away silently outraged at their display of affection. The Officer holding the dog appears to be proud of his victory with the struggle and he brings the dog back to his chest. Then, without warning, he swings the dog out over the side of the bridge bringing back an empty hand. Troy leaps to his feet. Officers be damned as he plows through all three of them and leaps off the side into the cold river. I now make my presence known walking away from my hiding spot to confront the now three laughing officers. They look to me and I raise my head a little by passing them and looking over the edge of the bridge. I can see Troy swimming in the water looking around frantically for his dog. He calls his name over and over and he appears to be struggling against the current. Without even thinking I'm already removing my jacket and shirt moving to the other side of the bridge. When I look over it's ledge I can see the dog holding on for dear life to a branch that is caught up against the bank. I toss my shirt and backpack aside not even concerned that the three Republican Officers will mess with them. That's my last concern. I stand on the ledge of the bridge and jump in. The water is cold and my body instantly cramps against the temperature. It takes me a second to get my bearings as I swallow muddy water. The current is strong but I have no difficulty with treading against it. I turn back to look at Troy who finally sees his dog and myself. He makes for land as I begin to swim towards the stranded pup. When I get there, he is shaking and just by looking in his eyes I can sense he knows I'm there to help. I free him from his branch and we begin to swim towards an open bank. When I climb out Troy is there with a helpful smile taking his dog in his hand and cradling him in a tight hug. The dog licks his face and I fall over onto my back. Troy and his dog disappear as I try to catch my breath. They return with my possessions and a towel.
"Here," Troy offers me the rag. I take it without thanking him and begin to dry myself off. The sun is almost out of sight and the freezing water has left my entire body cold. I politely thank Troy for offering me the dirty towel and hand it back. Our little show has produced a crowd. The three Republican Officers stand on the bridge looking out over us along with several citizens of Colfindale. Some of them are Republican, while others are not. I put my shirt and jacket back on and throw the backpack over my shoulders. Together, Troy and I climb the bank back up towards the bridge.
"That was uncalled for," I snap at the officer. I no longer care who he is or what he can possibly do to me. He steps forward ready to argue before a whistle is blown. I turn in the general direction of the whistle blower and step back as General Ackers joins the crowd. Most people walk away continuing about their business. If anything, they don't want anything to do with what's about to happen.
"What's going on here," the General's voice is deep and patient.
The Officer who threw the dog over the bridge steps forward,
"We found these two causing trouble on the bridge," he replies
with a worried weight carried in his voice.
"That's not true," I respond with a snap. "They threw Troy's dog over the bridge."
General Ackers looks to me and then to his fellow officers. As far as Republican Officials go, General Ackers is a lot tamer to deal with. I've had several run ins with him before but nothing major. He is the equivalent as what one would call a police chief. He has a lot of men to look after and I think the last thing he wants is any trouble in the town. "I think the three of you have work to do," he directs himself to the three Officers. They don't hesitate and begin to walk away. The General looks me to and nods firmly and then looks to Troy. "Is this true?" he questions with light concern. Troy nods and I can tell he's not one for words. "Alright, thank you for your time, Troy. Better get a move on and stay low for a while." Troy obeys without speaking a word. As he carries the dog off I feel that I get a silent thank you from the small animal. General Ackers and I are left alone. "Staying out of trouble, Russ?"
"I'm trying too sir," I reply. I call him sir because if there is anyone who has deserved any respect around here, it's him. Also because I'm scared.
"Good," he replies circling around me. "Very foolish thing you did."
"I know. I won't let it happen again," I reply.
"I'm not talking about standing up to those three idiots. I'm talking about jumping in that cold river and saving a damn dogs life."
I am taken back by his concern for me. It leaves me speechless for a few seconds. "I was doing what I thought was right," I offer him.
General Ackers pats my back. "You're a good kid, sometimes, Russ. Get on home and stay out of trouble." He walks away and I am left with a wave of relief.
Despite the differences not all Republican Officials or citizens are bad. Some of them just want a normal co-existence between themselves and Outsiders and General Ackers has a hard time of making that happen. I want to thank him but it's dark and I really need to get back home to Echo. As I cross over the bridge I can make out a small jeep with the three Officers standing around having a laugh. I duck behind a tree. Officially, I am out of the city at this point but not officially out of harms way. My bow and arrow are only a few feet away. I crouch down low and begin to crawl my way there. Because of my size and several years of learning how to hunt I can move silently but when I get to my bow and arrow a thought suddenly emerges into my head. What they did to Troy's dog was unbelievable and I highly doubt General Ackers will give them some sort of sever punishment. I can hear his last comment ring in my head; stay out of trouble. Fat chance. They have to pay somehow and an idea has already begun to form in my head. I remove my backpack and withdraw a small rope. It's about twenty five feet long and made of nylon. I don't consider it to be the strongest rope but it'll serve my purpose. I slide along the dirt on my belly back towards the bridge. Once there I begin to wait for the three Officers to turn their backs. When they do I make silent moves towards the bumper of their jeep and tie a strong knot to the back axle. My mind is racing and I know that if I get caught General Ackers will not be able to save me. If I get caught. Once done, I retreat back to the bridge and tie the free end of the rope to a large metal post. I don't really know if this will work but if anything, it'll be greatly amusing. I then return to my backpack, bow, and arrows. I gather them all together and slip a little deeper into the patch of woods. I use the trees and the darkness to move along beside them following the road out to the Graveyard. When I emerge back onto the road I am several yards away from them. They turn to look at me and I wave back then offer then a middle finger salute. I've been told it's a hand gesture that is older than several generations and one that doesn't mean hello or anything as friendly. The three Officers look applaud and they immediately climb into the jeep. I walk backwards watching as the one who tossed Troy's dog into the bridge climbs into the driver's seat. I wait patiently and watch as he starts the jeep and hits the gas. I turn half way ready to run just encase my plan doesn't work. Fortunately, it does as I watch the jeep come to suddenly stop with it's back axle falling completely off. I smile as the three officers shout words at the top of their lungs and I begin to flee with a smile on my face. Justice has been served and at a high cost. The piece of rope will expensive to replace.