Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One
Title: I See Angry People (Part 17)
The main road out of that town lead into a foggy afternoon. The sun would set soon, and I would be invisible once more. I walked through the night, until I found trees, in the form of a forest. Where there were trees, there was wood. And I could make more arrows, which I needed.
I slept in that forest, for a few hours. My dreams were filled with Billy, the protected, innocent boy, who’d died at the hands of violent, cruel men. I woke in silence, fire in my blood. It was time to start my plan.
I spent the day searching for the right kind of wood, the right weight, the right balance, to the tree limbs and branches. I gathered twenty, and spent the afternoon honing tips onto them, attaching carefully cut, thin strips of wood, like feathers, to them, so they would fly straight.
I’d had a lot of practice over the last few years. I was very good at making wooden arrows, at getting the tips sharp enough, getting the balance of weight right, getting the wooden fins that guided them in flight positioned properly, cut to the right length, width, and thickness.
They weren’t as good as store bought arrows, with metal tips, and synthetic, plastic fins to guide them in flight. But they were good enough for what I used them for.
An old shirt made the perfect sling shot, another weapon I was well practiced with. One whose ammunition supply was nearly endless. I gathered a bag of rocks, all with sharp, jagged edges, most between one and two inches in size. If I needed to use them, the sharp edges would cause more damage than flat sides, or curved surfaces.
Normally, I’d have set fires around the area, but I’d been on such a long walk, I’d run out of old butane lighters. And no one had made matches in years, those were long gone. So, I had no way to set fires. I’d have to come up with other plans.
I spent three days in the forest, planning. Gathering the things I needed. Drawing plans on the dirt, making models of rocks and pieces of rotten trees. Three days of laying out how to attack the unknown that was that house, and that town.
On the fourth day I headed back to the place. I waited until after midnight to enter the town. In the darkness, I moved from one home to another, one store to another. Over the next five nights, I studied the layout of the town. I studied where the people in that town set up watch points. Where they patrolled the streets.
I watched them drag two women into that house. Those women screamed, they fought, and they got beaten when they did. The men made their comments, awful as they were, about what they were going to do with those women.
I wanted to let my arrows fly. Strike at those men. Go down in a blaze of glory, taking as many of them as I could with me. But that was suicide, and would not accomplish anything. The women wouldn’t be freed. And I wouldn’t be able to bring an end to the evil things happening in that town.
I stayed hidden, out of sight, invisible. No one knew I was there.
A cache of arrows here. A cache of rocks there. Trees and fences used as blinds, hiding me from sight. Houses set up so I could run through them, front to back. Piles of fabric, dried leaves and grass, anything that would burn good.
The five days turned into six, then seven.
Then, I was ready. I’d knew where the men who walked the streets were, and when they were there. I knew where the guards of the house were, which windows they peered from. I knew when they changed who had guard duty.
As I said, starting the fires was the big problem. One I solved using a wooden torch I could carry from place to place. All I had to do was light it. Something I’d had years of practice doing using a fire plow. I’d made one in the forest, and it was simple to use it to light my torch.
Which I did, on the eighth night in town, in the dead of night, when I knew most of the men were sleeping. With my torch, I moved from one house to another, where I’d set up my fire starting piles, and I started fires, one at a time, making certain they all caught, and burned.
It wasn’t long at all before ten houses had fires in them. Then twenty. By that time, the first fires I’d set were raging, lighting up the night. I waited, then, for the men to start investigating what was happening.
That’s when I moved between houses, using the paths I’d set up, moving through houses, over fences, through brush. I started with one house, when a man came to see what was happening there, I shot him with an arrow, then moved to the next house, where I fired another arrow, and moved again. It took them three houses to figure out what was happening. By then, most of the fires were running wild.
That’s when I moved to the second set of houses I’d set up, and started lighting fires in them.
Fires turned the night an ugly orange, with ghostly shadows everywhere. Smoke filled the air, and the fires began to spread from house to house.
I use my slingshot to fire two rocks into the upstairs window of the house the men kept the women in. The one they’d murdered Billy in. When a face appeared in that window, it received a sharp rock from my slingshot.
And the man fell.
And I moved to another location, and attacked another window in that house. Then I moved again. And again.
Gunfire echoed in the night, as the men in that house fired from their windows, blindly into the smoke filled air, as they aimed at shadows in the flickering orange light of the fires.
I moved through the streets, arrows ready, and each time I saw a man, an arrow flew. I never missed. Arrows struck legs, arms, chests, shoulders. The idea wasn’t to kill them so much as to wound them, slow them down, hurt them, cause them to panic. And it worked.
In the end, I walked through the streets of fire and finished the wounded with more of my arrows. When I ran out of arrows, I pulled them from dead bodies, and then kept moving. I never stayed in one place.
As the sun began to rise, the men in the house had to give up, and come out into the open. The fires had spread through the town, and had reached that house. It’s wooden fence burned, the flames raced across the lawn, danced in the bushes, the vines, the trees in its front yard.
And as those men came from the house, I shot them with the guns of their dead.
Then, I moved into that house, drew my knife, and cut the bindings on anyone I found inside. “Run! The place is on fire! Run!”
The women that could, ran. Two couldn’t run. They limped and staggered from the burning house. One couldn’t walk at all. I threw her over my shoulder, and dashed from the burning house.
It was a scene I’d seen before. A fight I’d had dozens of times. A war I knew would never end.
I don’t pretend to know why, but several of the women followed me as I left the burning wreckage of that town. Outside, I lead them to a few bushes, where I’d hidden some clothing I’d gathered from the houses. “You can wear these.”
I didn’t wait for them.
They followed me anyway. Three of them. Plus the one I carried. The one who couldn’t walk.
It took that day to reach the forest. That night, they slept in fear, and nightmares, beneath the canopy of the trees. It would be many nights before they would sleep without waking. Many nights before they would begin to talk about what happened. Who they were. Many nights until they spoke to me.
All I could do was watch over them, and catch what sleep I could.
“You’re free to go where you want. You don’t have to stay with me.”
None of them left.
That night I promised Beth’s ghost I’d take care of them. I’d get them to Jessica’s little town in the woods in the mountains. They’d have a chance to live again.
Somehow, I think Beth smiled, wherever she was, beyond the veil of life.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.
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