Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One
Title: I See Angry People (Part 16
Billy was hungry. He was always hungry, even after we found food, and ate something. I figured it was because he was a growing boy, and needed more food to grow. But it was frustrating to deal with his endless hunger. There were few streams, ponds, or other sources of water, and there were no farms, no gardens, no tomatoes, or beans, or corn.
Billy was hungry. He didn’t like dandelion salads, or berries from trees, and mushrooms disgusted him so much, he refused to eat them. “Well. I suppose you’ll eat when you get hungry enough.”
I tried to understand, his parents had grown the food he’d always eaten. His mother did the gardening, and his father hunted. They went fishing sometimes, in a stream near where he lived. They had rabbit, and deer, and other meats.
He kept talking about how he missed meat. How eating weeds wasn’t any fun, and never filled him up. “He’s just a boy,” I kept thinking. “Was I ever like him?”
The days became endless, a never ending session of Billy complaining about the lack of real food, having to sleep on the ground, with its bumps, rocks, weeds, clumps of grass, tree roots, and everything else. And sleeping on the ground was cold as hell. He wanted to know how far away Jessica and the town were. How many days it would take to get there, how many people lived there, if there were any other boys he could play with, what kind of food everyone ate.
I was ready to scream, but I never did. “I have no idea how many days it will take to get there. I have no idea where we are. It’s not on a map. I don’t have a map anyway, do you?”
The ground became hilly, and I guessed that put us in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Of course, which foothills was an open question, as I’d never ventured on such a wild, winding journey as the one I was on. I had no idea how long it would take to find my way home.
Billy asked about beds, and houses, and families. So, as we walked, I told him what I could.
“We don’t have any families. Not like you’re thinking. No one’s married, no moms, no dads. There’s not many men. Just a few. Last time I was there, there were six of us. There are lots of women. But, they’re not like your Mom.”
“What do you mean?”
“Most of them are younger than your Mom. And most of them are survivors.”
“Yeah. They escaped from the wild men.”
“You honestly don’t know, do you?”
“Billy, what do you know about what happened in the world?”
“Mom and Dad never talked about it. They said the world was dangerous, and I was supposed to stay at home, like they did. That we were safe at home.”
Billy’s parents had told him nothing.
“Billy, you’ve got a heck of a lot to learn.”
As we walked, I told him about the world going crazy. About how men started attacking women, raping them, then beating them. I told him about how the women started to fight back, about how everybody got guns, and killed everybody else. How it spread through the entire country, and how the men who started it were still raping, and beating, and killing women.
Billy listened, until finally he said, “That’s not what Mom and Dad said.”
“They kept you safe, didn’t they.”
Every night, I watched over the boy. Every night, I got what sleep I could, as long as I knew Billy was safe.
And we walked, as the hills grew, and the trees started to return. We passed the remains of towns and cities. Billy was curious, and wanted to explore them. I kept explaining that was about the craziest thing he could do. That’s where the bad men lived. The kind of men that would have hurt him.
But, he wanted to see what a town was, what a city was. And one night, I fell asleep, and Billy left. He headed toward a town. I woke up after a few hours of sleep, and saw he was gone. “Damn!” I knew the fool boy would get himself killed.
I followed his trail. It was like following a painted line through the trees, brush, and grasses. He’d headed straight for the last town we’d seen. I ran, I didn’t have time to walk. Everything in me screamed Billy was in trouble. Yes, the boy was a headache, but he was an innocent. He didn’t have a clue how to live in the world. He didn’t even know what the world was like.
It took two hours, but I got to the edge of the town. I stayed hidden in the brush outside the town, moved around its boundaries, looked for signs of life. Everything in me screamed, “Hurry!” But I knew I had to be careful. I didn’t know what was in that town. Before I raced in, blindly, I had to know what I was running into.
It was a moderate sized town, a small shopping district off the main road through it, and several blocks of houses to either side of that. It even had a sign on the road, “Old Road”. The place was large enough I couldn’t see from one side to the other. Once I’d circled it, I picked a place to start in. I came in from the opposite direction Billy had taken, just to be safer. I knew going into that town was crazy. I had my bow and arrows ready, one arrow set to fire.
I moved cautiously between the houses. The fences made it tough. They’d become impenetrable walls of twisted vines, and weeds. Nothing could get through those. I moved along the front of the buildings. There was nothing to hear, no one to see. One house, two, three. A dozen. I kept looking.
I peeked around the corner of another house, and ducked back as the corner of the house exploded from a gunshot. The echo of the shot rang through the town. Yeah, there were people in the town. And they weren’t friendly.
I backtracked, quickly, then climbed over the brush and vine encased fence, dashed across the yard, and climbed another fence, as I moved around the house. I peeked around the corner of the house a second time, and saw two men moving toward where I’d been. I shot them in the back with arrows, then moved back over the fence, through the yard again, this time into the neighboring yard. I crossed that, and came out a house further down than I’d been. I peeked out at the street. There were four other men, with guns drawn, running toward where the gunshot had come from.
I hid behind the fence, and waited for them to clear the gap between the houses. Then I went back to the street. It’s not fun when you’re armed with a bow and arrows, and the bad guys have guns. I got low to the ground, held the bow parallel to the ground, and shot an arrow. It struck one of the men in the thigh. He fell, screaming. The other three didn’t realize what was happening at first. I shot one of them with another arrow. It got him in the stomach.
The other two realized what was happening, and started shooting like crazy in my general direction. With each shot, their aim got better. I took one down with another arrow. It winged him. A fourth arrow missed the fourth man, but a fifth arrow got him in the shoulder.
They were down, but still could shoot their guns. So the arrow and gun fight continued until I’d hit them enough they stopped shooting.
No one else came running. Lucky me.
I took two of their guns, and made sure they were fully loaded. If any of the men were alive, I finished them with my knife. Then, I headed in the direction they’d come from.
It was a house. A pretty, white house. With a picket fence. Well kept, too. Clean sidewalks, fully edged. The lawn was cut somehow, I figured with an old push mower, with blades. It was a classic stable house for women.
“Damn. There’ll be more men soon enough.”
There was no way I was going to be able to get into that house without getting dead. I circled it, looked through any open windows. There were two guards on the top floor, one on the front, one on the back, each with rifles. They watched from a windows.
There was a guard by the front door. The back door was boarded up. There was only one way in.
Billy’s body was in the back yard. They hadn’t shot him. It would have been better if they had. It seemed some of them wanted to have a little fun with a boy. Some twisted sexual fantasy, or something. His body wasn’t alone. The bodies of two women were with his.
There was nothing I could do.
Not one damn thing.
I retreated to outside the town, and watched as men came in from the countryside that night, a good half dozen of them. They headed toward the house. I knew what was in that house. I knew how those men lived. How they treated women. How they treated boys.
That night, I decided I had to do something about that house. One way or another, I had to stop what those men were doing. It would take time. I had to figure out how many men there were. When they were at their weakest. And the best way to attack them.
I had to turn them into the prey, and I had to become the hunter.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.