Sunday, June 8, 2014

There's No Place Like...

His eyes dart sharply about the scenery with an indiscretion that is largely glossed over except by his companion, who hasn’t stopped noticing since the maw of the forest’s various willowed limbs deposited them amidst the wide expanse of a greenery numerously crested and punctuated with nude folk and their humble abodes.
“I’ll give you it’s not as easy as riding a bike, but you warm up to it if you give it some time.” They piper the two companions - one of whom bears a rather scrutinizing visage while the other offers him warm assurance – with their effusive candor that overwhelms those that may happen on the nudist’s tribal affairs. Indeed their warmth and comradery envelops unaccustomed minds with a most jarring and immediate repulsion. This reaction may also, in part, be due to the nudity of the nudists.  
But it isn’t the nudity that puts Jacob on edge, although the experience is foreign and uncomfortable, he found some odd relief in the bareness of his body against the wind and in the communal bareness of the huddled mass before him – well at least he’s telling himself this. And it isn’t their exceptional regard for the most unwarranted of fondness that sets this strange queasiness in his stomach.
What it in fact is inescapably pricks deeply at Jacob’s peace of mind. It’s the excited murmurs that characteristically strangle the air of the crowd at these events; It’s the saturation of his name and his doings in every whisper and every exchange of the people; And it’s the way he can say it one day and, without question, it is done before nightfall. The very mention of his name seems to trigger waves of genuflection.
Perhaps Jacob also felt uneasy in that he was conscribing himself to a world he had never in his life dreamed he might join, but more so than not he felt uneasy that it was this man – Michael – that had to reign king here.
 Michael’s words held a divine weight to them, it was unspoken, but it was surely there and it was surely acknowledged. Years before he might have been average, perhaps he had walked with a quaint confidence, but he hadn’t been noticeably exceptional. This royalty that the people bequeathed him had not found him until some fairly recent and revolutionary events transpired, events in which he had found himself at the forefront of forces working against the evil mechanizations of society, as he had so earnestly put it.
“Are you absolutely sure of this?” Jacob asks without bothering to mask his growing doubt.
“There is no other way. You’ve got to do it.” Taylor sees worry ripple Jacob’s brow - it’s that same worry that cascades down the most composed of mugs just as the last glimmer of option fades. Jacob is left to surrender himself to the pull of the tide that has brought him so far away from comforts and now wishes to see him drown in discomfort. Taylor gives him a reassuring tap on the back, “You’ll be fine”, but Jacob feels himself sinking in the tide’s insatiable pull.
They file into the crowd that has gathered to hear Michael speak, as is common for the tribe. The people are perhaps just that – people – but Jacob can’t see it. He’s nervous and the slightest hinge of unfamiliar notes sets him off. They’re all of course nude and particularly engaged in morning commotion and what gossip the quaint little holding can provide, but this is registered wholly off key for Jacob whose ears bristle with a cacophony in crescendo – each step further into the crowd sees the brutish wails intensify.
At last the crowd falls into a silence as Michael enters stage. This is perhaps no better, but Jacob can’t say this isn’t what he’s here for. He’s larger than life and everyone’s gaze respects the matter. He stands above the crowd on a hill that overlooks the greenness of the clearing and speaks with a booming voice as he dully regards some affairs that need direction.  The matter is bland yet the people listen intently.
The event is largely a venue by which people express their inordinate adoration for Michael’s character – and surely it is just that, a character in a story Michael spins, Jacob imagines - as he bellows some commands. Of course no one’s ever seen them as royal decree, mostly Michael acts as a voice for some of the tribe’s needs. Usually this comprises of a call for more man power in constructing some structures or in having hunts more frequently or in some other mundane duty. The main attraction stems from what is a gospel of Michael’s own authorship. An unholy gospel that is profoundly worshiped by the nudists.  
“There’s another matter that has caught my attention.” He said after a time and for a brief moment his eyes catch Jacob’s. “My children”, his voice is soothing now, understanding even - if a voice could be that. “My lovely, lovely children. You’ve made me out to be someone I’m not. You call me many names, many great titles, and I am honored, flattered by your reverie. But I am no prophet, no hero, no Great Nipple Grazer. I am nothing without you my children. For without nipples there can be no Great Nipple Grazer. I am just a man. So I give you no house to be governed by, I give you freedom; I give you your bodies. I give you one simple commandment. You must always love thy body, love thy neighbor’s body and live and love in peace. Thank you.”
It was as if he had been addressing Jacob in particular, to which Jacob felt the unease in his stomach subside and now only felt displaced. When the crowd responded with thunderous, violent ecstasy, Jacob’s unease returns. 
Michael entered the crowd, which parted to accommodate his presence. People called out for his attention every which way and he seems able to match their excitement, albeit a little more confined, but it feels genuine or as close to genuine as Michael intended.
Jacob sees his approach and maneuvers through the crowd. Taylor and Corey, in their sprightly manner that is tinged with playful mischief, had teased that Jacob ought to house an erection when he confronted Michael, that it was offensive to do otherwise; At least Jacob had hoped it were only their usual sort of mischief. Now he is not as sure. In his pass through the crowd he spots one too many erections - it should be noted, however, that one erect penis is already one too many for Jacob at this juncture. Taylor and Corey had also offered that the taste of the crowd was an acquired one. They had particularly pointed out that a person must endure a finite number of erect penes before accustoming to the occasional accidental anal penetration. This is not true in the slightest, and as it turns out, most accidental anal penetration is not accidental (in the rare case that it is completely accidental be a fair sport. It was an honest mistake). With this in mind Jacob crosses the sea of bodies with a belly pregnant with apprehension.
He finds his mark.
Like the proverbial Red Sea, the crowd parts leaving Jacob in the wake of Michael’s path. Jacob could understand that when a good man calls good men answer, and when a great man calls kingdoms answer. Michael was something of the latter. He was of decent stature, well groomed, and generally well endowed. His eyes were a smooth blend of hazelnut and burnt sienna, his face gaunt, his lips thin, and his nose discernibly Jewish(I have a Jewish friend who would find this offensive, so relax). Here he stood in front of Jacob and with a scan of the eyes and a smile Michael grazed Jacob’s nipples.
“A new face I see, a new body,” Jacob was in Michael’s hands now. Maybe it had been a mistake to get so close, he thought, but he had to see him. It was a ritual that could not be forgone. The crowd shrunk and compacted on Michael’s position. Jacob feared the worst and silently weighed the pros and cons of what appeared to be a deal of misfortune in his future.
He remembered the cold winds of winter, a winter he had been alone and afraid. You learned how to live when you were dying and Jacob had seen death that winter. He’d seen its shadowy hands encroach on the unsuspecting. He had learned to be suspecting.
He remembered their faces. He'd only seen them briefly when they passed him, but he could still picture them in his mind. They were alone and afraid like him, but that only spared him some passing exchange. Everyone was learning to live on their own and how to do it quick, it seemed.
He remembered looking for shelter and he remembered the pain of hunger in his stomach that he could never quite satiate. He looked for shelter and would have never expected it would find him. There they were among the swirl of winter flakes and the thicket of the cold white forest.
He remembered it warmly despite the chill of frost. They were there in all their nude glory. The brothers that had spared him more than warnings and fear. They had spared him their home.
As much as he had searched his mind for reason to not be with Michael, to not have his nipples horribly molested, to not have the wind scrape against his bare body the way it did, he knew he couldn't. He wouldn't. This is where I have to be.
He would withstand Michael’s hands if only for his friends who had implicated themselves so thoroughly with the tribe and its strange customs.
Jacob’s muscles tense as Michael begins to feel Jacob’s body more intimately, and when his hand reaches far enough south Jacob jerks away despite his recently affirmed resolve. It was a thoughtless act, but nonetheless it communicated Jacob's mind well enough. Michael ceases his grazing. Jacob stared silently, his body shrinking; he was tall but he had never looked so short than he had in that moment. “I take it you don’t want the butt sex.” Michael says at last.
“Um, no.” Jacob managed dumbstruck. His body had been riddled by fear and some not so subtle jitter, but he now felt a cool wave of relief sweep through him. It hadn’t occurred to him that he had a say in the matter. He composed some nerves before finally grasping the words stuck in his throat. “but thank you very much for the kind offer.”
“Ah, well. I understand. Some do some don’t. Most just think its tradition or something and don’t question it. Can you believe it?” He laughed at that and Jacob hesitantly joined him still a little too dazed. “Well good to have you on board son, and uhhh nice penis.” He said glancing at Jacob’s goods. The crowd decompressed. Michael grazed Jacob’s nipple once again and continued his walk into the crowd. Jacob let out a breath he’d held for too long; he was completely unsure of how he would have handled the situation and was glad he wouldn’t make some sort of social faux pas, among other things. Jacob let the crowd bustle past him.
 “So you don’t like anal, you a gay?” Taylor said having caught up to Jacob. Taylor was a tall, slender, bespectacled man of infinite charm. His eyes were a soft shade of hazel brown that possessed an incandescence to them. His dark black hair was expertly shaped into a fashion of the old world, one that had been rather glamorously received but now seemed out of place. People suspected he had smuggled hair products into the tribe for his hair needs, but no complaint was lodged, for if he did he made good use of them. He was scrawny of seeming boyhood despite his age; the faintest of striations outlined the telltale musculature of a fit man waiting to be. The prominence of Taylor’s cheekbones was perhaps only matched by the edgy nature of his nature.
“Fuck you Taylor.” He jabbed at Taylor who beamed too brightly and laughed too raucously at Jacob’s discomfort. “That danced a little too close on the line between touchy and actual rape.”
“Yeah it was supposed to.” He contained his laughter. “What did he say?”
“He said I had a nice penis. I didn’t need to be almost raped to have someone tell me I had a nice penis Taylor.”
“Oh cry me a river bud. Tell me what you think of him.”
“Why do you need to know what I think of this nut job?”
“Nut job?”
“Oh relax you’re a nut job too, for being tied to all of this.” He gestures widely to the scene unfolding around them.
“Yeah well maybe you’re the nut around here.”
“I doubt it.” He says eyeing a particularly savory, or rather unsavory, nudist attending to morning exercise that is excruciatingly physically involving. Taylor lightly ushers Jacob away from the view.
“Come on, what is it? You’ve been all jumbled up since we got here. It’s him isn’t it?”
“Yea maybe it is. What am I not allowed an opinion?”
“No that’s not it, it’s just… it means something to me if you like him.”   
Jacob’s brow furrowed and the blue-green of his eyes seemed strained as they searched his mind. Taylor and Corey had brought him here and he had intended to stay, but this was not their world. It was Michael’s. They made it their home, he thought. Could I make it mine too? “I guess he’s alright for a quote on quote nipple grazer.” Jacob relented for now.
“The thing about nipple grazing, I think, is that no one really understands it. Michael just started doing it one day and everybody was ok with it so now it’s a beloved past time. Such is life amongst the tribe.”  Taylor observed as they overlooked the village below. There was a subtle slope that led down to the village, which nestled on relatively level ground in between slopes. The whole of the clearing, end to end, was perhaps a mile after which in either direction the forest commanded authoritarian presence.
The bustle of the crowd had long past them at the foot of Michael’s Hill. The scent of morning cookery had just started to reach them, strong of bacon and ham. They took quiet note of the melody of morning as smoke collided with the morning mist. The tribe was primitive yet it garnered a humble beauty to it.
A figure emerged climbing up the green incline that prefaced the foot of Michael’s Hill. Jacob recognized him immediately. Corey was the younger and more reserved of the brothers. He shared Taylor’s bespectacled nature, but found himself less implicated to the state of his hair, which was shades lighter and a characteristic hazelnut hue. The blue and green of his eyes had found a subtle compromise by which to exist and his skin endured a paleness uncommon amongst Nudists. He wasn’t nearly as scrawny as his brother instead he was full, not plump but full, and awkwardly pieced together.  
“Well, Jacob how are we on the whole butt sex department?” Corey managed when he had reached them.
“You gay wads said I’d have to do it.” Jacob fumed.
“No we said you’d have to see him.” Taylor pointed out. “We never said you had to let the guy do you, we’re not savages.”
“Hohohohahaha” He let out mockingly. “Very funny guys, just let the new guy get butt raped. I’m laughing, you’re laughing, everyone’s having a blast. Haha except that’s not true because there’s a guy getting butt raped. And that guy is clearly not going to be having a good time, you know because of the penis ramming into his rectum.” Taylor and Corey let out some hearty laughter at this.
Corey managed to contain himself. “Relax. You think we’d really do you like that J.” Corey eased Jacob.
Jacob sighed. “You know, fuck you guys.”
Taylor, always the last to find his footing after a good laugh, brought his hands over Jacob and Corey’s shoulders. “Come on gang we’ve got some sight-seeing to do.” He said shepherding them down a gentle incline towards the village.

Among the dense thicket of the forest a man sat by a bonfire pit. The stones cold and the ashes scattered on the ground around him. He wore a white weathered tank top beaten with splotches of color here and there. It hugged the musculature of his body tightly. His rugged black pants had seen their fair share of abuse as well, barely holding the stitching together to clothe him. His black hair sat mangled on his head like a tangled mop. Sydney’s brow twitched at the sight of him and a physical contempt manifested in her when he caught wind of her green eyes on him. “Can I help you?” He asked calmly but not without a hint of tire and irritation.
 “You look dumb.” She said coldly.
“Gee thanks Sydney. That’s really helpful. Where would I be without your input?”
“You don’t just look dumb, you’re being dumb too.”
“I’m not interested in your opinion. It’s wrong and stupid, just like you.” Seated between the two was a black duffel bag, about as large on Jon as his chest lengthwise. Rummaging through the bag’s contents he found pieces and scraps of metal that shone in the dim light of the forest. Military grade weaponry, Jon mused, extremely rare and extremely lethal. I suppose everyone expected it would boil down to bullets. He began reassembling the various components of the weaponry, knowingly conjoining the correct structures.
 Sydney and Jon had not found sanctuary easy to come by these days, but the forests opened refuge to all in the most indiscriminate of fashions. Their newest campsite consisted of a couple of poorly constructed tents and a bonfire to keep the night at bay. They’d certainly seen better days.  
How Jon and Sydney had ended up enjoying each other’s company still vexed them both. Perhaps it was Jon who made the worst of the situation in any case, but he’d never admit to it. Suffice to say Jon wasn’t a people person and even less of a Sydney people person. Jon didn’t remember much of his old life, but he did remember that he was, still is, something of a drunkard. Jon had lost sight as to whether he drank because he enjoyed drinking or because he didn’t know how to exist without doing so. He drank as he rummaged through the duffel bag’s contents. His blue eyes seemed lost and focused at the same time, always as if he was staring past something, as if the world were ethereal and only he could make note of its transparence.
“God, would it kill you to put it down for once? This is kind of important you know.” Sydney reprimanded Jon.
“It just might kill me.” He regarded solemnly savoring the elixir in his belly. “But relax. I am nothing if not a professional. Have I ever let you down?” He turned his gaze on her with some warmth in his spirit.
“Not to point any fingers, but I do recall a certain someone bartering me off to a tribe for a bottle of scotch.” The indignation pricked at Jon.
“All is well in the name of scotch and good gods. Or so they say anyway.” Sydney’s indignation didn’t lessen.
“Nobody says that”
“Well I just did, so there. You were never really in danger anyways; I had those locals in the palm of my hand. And did I or did I not offer you a drink afterwards?”
“That’s not the point. You know if I were someone who cared a little more, I’d say you had a drinking problem.”
“No what I have is something of a living problem. And I’ve got just what I need to fix that.” Jon took another gulp out of his bottle.
“Of all the people I had to be stuck with.” Sydney sighed. “But this is dangerous. We need to be careful and not drunk half the time.”
“I know, I know. But it’s not like we’re robbing Fort, uhh, what did they call that place again? The one with all that gold?”
“Knox. Fort Knox”
“Yeah that one. We’ll be in and out. Easy peasy.”
“It’s never been easy Jon. One of these days you’re going to get yourself hurt and I won’t be there to help you.”
“I’m counting on it.” The drink opened him, maybe more so than he cared to share with Sydney but he couldn’t have minded less at the time. “Maybe tonight’s the night. Sydney I just want to be,” Jon paused. He looked for the right words, closed his eyes, and exhaled after a length. “Done.”  He dreamed.
“Don’t do that.” Jon heard the melancholy in her voice but it wasn’t until he finally glanced at her that he truly believed it. “Please.” Sydney almost whispered, afraid to let the words go. Her sad eyes pierced him. He’d never dreamed he could feel so guilty.
“Hey, I was just messing with you. It’s all going to be peachy.” Jon put down the bottle. “Look mom no hands.” She didn’t respond. “Is that how I use that phrase?”
Sydney’s green eyes darted away. Jon waited, but Sydney soon seemed as cold and distant as before. Silence fell and after a while Jon continued to his musings silently.
“Did I ever tell you about my mom?” She finally broke the silence to Jon’s surprise.
“No, you’ve never talked much about anyone.” Jon’s eyes were on her. He felt as if he had never seen her until then. The brown of her hair, riddled with slightest hint of redness in it, suddenly hit him with monstrous clarity. Its warm earthy color seemed to steal away the life and hue of the forest. The softness of her green eyes possessed him in that instant as well. They shone even in the dim of dusk, like pale green stars. The whole of her beauty, the delicacy of her pretty face and the splendor of her womanly body became absolutely right; it became the only thing that Jon knew was certain. He feared that the tender spots of his heart might grow to love her if he wasn’t careful.
“My sister and I, we adored her. I know everyone loves their mother, but they couldn’t have more than we did ours. She was always so kind and gentle with us. And she was beautiful, so very beautiful. She was like a fairy tale- like your favorite fairy tale. Pops said that the world had never made a gentler creature.” Jon smiled but she barely noticed. “Maybe that’s why it had to crush her.” His smile seeped away and he felt her voice waver the slightest.
             “We were poor. We were always poor. Our parents barely had enough to feed us let alone feed themselves. Well we managed for a time and I thought everything could be alright - I thought that everything would be alright if they were there. If she was there. Pops was great but he couldn’t do it, not like her. I know it wasn’t his choice but still for the longest time I hated him for it. Some nights- a lot of nights - I blamed him. I thought that if he’d been there it wouldn’t have happened like it did.” She choked back the tremor of a discomposure he’d never seen in her. She was quiet for a spell longer than Jon could manage.
“What happened to her?” He finally prodded.
“Money had always been tight for us. Rent seemed to come up sooner and sooner, and pay shorter and shorter. Pop kept looking for more and more work and we started to see even less of him than before. He ended up getting more work, but it was never enough. More and more nights we’d go to sleep hungry. Mother would have done anything for us. So… she did. Did you ever see how bad it got? In the slums I mean. Did you ever see any of that?”
Jon’s face darkened, “No, but I’ve seen enough either way.”
“I guess everyone’s seen enough now. Well she looked, but the only work left for her was the bad kind. She would have done it too, for us. But they never gave her the chance. No one ever told me what they did to her. Maybe that was worse. All I ever knew was that one morning she had left and she never came back. I spent too many nights lying awake imagining what had happened. Too many nights. I wish I could trade them for all the nights I would have slept hungry. I’d make that deal any day now.
“We only ever saw pop a handful of times after that. One day he left and he was gone forever too. So then we were on our own, Emma and I. Shipped from broken home to broken home along with all the other broken things. There were too many of us, we were flooding the orphanages. Can you imagine them trying to piece us back together when they were breaking too?” She gave him a grim half smile. “Well soon enough we were really on our own.” Her voice trailed off as if she’d lost herself. When finally she noted Jon’s eyes still on her she hastened. “You know the rest of the story. Eventually I ended up getting stuck with you, how lucky am I?”
“And your sister?”
She barely admitted she’d heard the question. “Not today, Jon.” She answered at last. He let it go.
“Why tell me this now?”
Sydney shrugged. “Maybe I don’t want to see this world break everyone.” John swallowed the thought. But it should break me, Sydney. It should. The sun was setting and the forest grew dark. “We should light a fire soon.”
He felt useless. She’d never made him that. At least I can do this. Without much more thought he set to tindering the fire. They hadn’t had lighters in a while, but his hands knew the way well enough by now. The first embers began to bite away at the blackness weaving through the thicket, withering away the bark voraciously. Jon’s eyes lost themselves in the red-orange dance. Sometimes they’d never find themselves till the pit was ashen and cold.
“Sometimes I think you might fall in.” She noted.
“Not that drunk. Not yet anyway.” His eyes held contract with the flames. He could see the way narrative danced with the embers; there were old stories and new amidst the fire. Some spiritual connection between the two made it a marvelously intuitive interface. One specific story circled around and around the sparks tonight. Jon could make out a man in sprint. Panicked perhaps, he’s moving fast, but the air around him is darkening. The land becomes gruesomely shadowed and grows deathly chill. The outline of the shadow begins to emerge with razor like clarity and soon enough it is apparently the shadow of a monstrous hand. It’s drawing closer, damping out more and more light as the shadow tightens around the man’s quickening movement.
He’s most certainly panicked now. His breath grows more frequent and his heart threatens to beat itself out, like the brightest candle burnt out so soon. His chest feels brittle to the beat, but he can’t wrap his mind around much else but the panic. Impending death is constricting the life out of him and all he can do not to die is fall deeper into panicked breaths. Move faster, use everything up to move faster, he thinks to himself, but the faster he moves the more it feels like death’s grip has won.
By now the hand’s fallen so close to him. The length of the arm attached to the hand is too massive to appreciate in a single frame, were he maybe fifty yards out he might appreciate the sheer magnitude of the creature, but the hand has drowned out the sky and everything else in his vision. The horizon’s blotted out and a tight circle of faltering light, centered exactly on him, is shrinking marking the approach of death’s void. No matter which direction he moves he’s caught. He knows it now, he’s facing a certainty.
And just like that he stops his struggle. He’s composing his breath and now he’s turned to face the monster. Perhaps it’s more awing than the absurd brawn of the beast, that quiet courage in spite of fear he’s mustered up, but it matters not. He’s crushed. There’s no mourning, no martyrdom, no ceremony in his future. It’s a banality that will catch no attention regardless of location or show. The hand is moving again, having eyed another runner.
The man’s got no name; he’s just a crushed heap of blood, bone, and dirt. It’s an abrupt close to the narrative and all that’s left is repetition in Jon’s blue irises that are tinged with the orange of flame. Why are they always so grim?, Jon thinks to himself.
They huddle by the fire as the moon tracks further into night. The forest was the blackest black when they let the last embers die out. “We’d best be off  now.” The gnarls of trees scowl at them as they break past. Always so grim.

“And this is the bathroom slash sex pit. It was originally intended to be a public restroom, but well life goes on and now it’s a sex pit slash bathroom. Or maybe it was originally a sex pit. Eh, who knows?” Taylor pondered, for a moment, the weight of this nuance. “That’s about everything you really need to know about the place.” Taylor concluded his tour of the grounds.
The tribe was seated in the hills of a clearing and surrounded by forest. The location had proven quite remote. Shelter among the Nudists was fairly primitive, consisting of grass roofs and mud brick walls. There were a couple of distinct larger huts among the tribe. As Taylor had explained, these huts catered to the entertainment of the Nudists in one form or another. Taylor had made special note of Michael’s hut, which was drawn from a thin cloth fabric. Jacob thought it seemed a tad bit more spacious than the other huts, but he let the thought fade.
 Things had gone rather simple. It was a time when blue skies and green fields could be the entirety of the world, and the old mysticism surrounding the starry, starry night returned.
The three walked the grounds a little more. Corey heard a stern call from a man as they walked. He charged Corey with some chores he’d meant to take care of earlier. “I’ve got some squirrel to skin guys, sorry. I’ll catch you later.” Corey ran off.
The sun had sunk behind the horizon some time ago and the dark and eternal ether that blanketed the land was now riddled by the piercing lights of stars. The night air began to fill with the bustle of people.  A good many establishments lit the dark as the tune of day shifted to the effervescent chatter of night. Jacob drank in the murmur of the tribe. He could feel an odd leap in his stomach. He couldn’t pin a word to the feeling, but he relished it as the irritations and discomforts that prickled his mind subsided.
“Well, what do you think?” Taylor asked.
Jacob beamed widely, “Tay, this is something else.” He soaked it all in.
“Will you stay?” Taylor’s face quivered with the slightest of worries. He’d been afraid to ask. He knew Jacob, but could he be asking too much of him now?
Jacob met his gaze, catching wind of Taylor’s misplaced stoicism - a compensation to hide the furrows of fear in his face. “Did you really have to ask Tay? Of course I’m staying.”
Taylor tried containing an all too effusive smile. He half succeeded, “Yeah I knew you’d say yes. Just had to ask you know?”
“Alright bud relax we’re not getting gay married here.” He nudged every reservation he had in him away, away into a darkness he could forget more than willingly. They walked the night some length enjoying the infectious atmosphere that instilled a boisterous spirit in old bones and young hearts alike, before Taylor found Jacob a homely hut to rest. Sleep found Jacob quickly and ever so sweetly.
It just didn’t last was all.
The night had grown quiet after a spell. Now only the torches of watchmen barred the blackness of night. There was only a handful stationed around the tribe. Just about enough men to cover the four sides of the compass and just barely over that amount. It had become a matter of seeing that the weary and the lost found safety in the tribe’s huts rather than it was a matter of guarding over the sleeping. The watch was often silent and mundane.
“You ever use one of these?” Rick gestured to Earl with the decrepit Winchester in his hands. Rick was young, not a day older than 14, but he’d decided to keep watch that day all the same. He’d have liked some scar or some ruckus to show his friends in the morning, but the banalities of responsibility refused to spare him.
“Not in a long time thankfully.” Earl rasped, his voice was strong but worn of age. His hair was greyed from the tip of his toe to the tip of his balding scalp, but his body was still strong and confident if not old and pale. He gave Rick a tender regard, “You’d like to use it now, but you wouldn’t if you really had to.”
“I’m a good shot. I could do it. If I needed to that is.”
“I’m sure you could. I was a bright eyed kid once too, if you could imagine. Believe me you’ll miss the days when you didn’t have to.” With some difficulty, Rick let the words sink in for a while. He was feeling smaller than he’d expected. He hadn’t come to feel young and little. Yet it was the youth in his eyes that gave him notice of the faintest of phantasms on the horizon. The shadows quickened.
“Earl,” his voice was caught in his throat but Earl heard him.
“What is it?”
Before Rick could answer the spray of gunfire erupted in the dark of the hills. Rick heard the high pitch whizz of bullets as they passed him and murdered the refrains of the night air. “Shit!” Rick bellowed.
Earl was quick but he fired almost blindly into the hills. His eyes were of little use as the rounds that berated them were silent. The rifle was louder than Rick was prepared for and set his ears ringing. He pooled up what courage he had and reared his Winchester up following Earl’s lead, but quickly lost all heart when he heard a bullet find its way into the old man. With a troubled look in his eyes he collapsed. The greenness of the clearing became stained by a metallic crimson that began to puddle around him. “Oh, shit!” Rick breathed, before another bullet found him too. It pierced him and continued back the other side of his stomach. Rick had definitely earned a scar for the morrow, provided he made it tell then.  
Amidst the racket of waking murmur and confusion a man raced through the huts. The smoothness of his bare scalp and his lack of body hair made it difficult to pin the source, but he possessed a greyness of old age, maybe in the wrinkles that withered his body or in the frailty of his look. Exasperated and losing breath he ran searching frantically. “Michael!” his coarse voice searched the night for an answer. “Michael!” His thin body struggled to follow his mind’s will. He ran for some time until at last, his body sore from the travel, he found his mark. A cloth hut situated at the heart of the tribe. He hurried into its confines. The moon’s brightness cast a faint cloak of illumination inside the hut.
Michael was already awake. “Michael,” he said breathlessly. “They’re here.” Michael gave him a knowing look.
“Thank you for your service, Ed.” His voice hung over Ed blankly. Ed looked as if he had more to say, his mouth gaped and shuddered with some effort, but he couldn’t drag his thoughts into being.
It was an icy cold on his back that made Ed break his gape. The metal of the barrel felt like it alone could pierce. “I think you’re a little lost, pal. You should see to the grandkids I’m sure they worry. Don’t you think?” Michael saw the shadow of a man at his hut’s front. Ed searched Michael’s face for an answer and when he nodded he swallowed his fear.
“Be safe Michael.” The cold of the barrel relented and he sauntered off and away.
“Now that we have some privacy.” The figure let the flap of the hut shut behind him. Other than a slit that revealed the blue of his eyes he was shrouded from tip to toe by a tight black hugging his body. The barrel fixated on Michael, the ever calm prophet.
“Can I offer you a drink?” He found a pitcher and cup in hand.  
“Afraid I’m on the job right now. I should take some respect for my profession. So they tell me anyways.”
“Well, the respect spares me.” He poured a cup and drank. “Don’t usually get good vintage here, but this one is particularly fine.”
“I know you have it here.” He cut in sharply.
“And you mean to take it, I know.”
“You seem like a busy man. I’d hate to waste your time with these subtleties.” The calm swept Michael’s body thoroughly. It was an unnerving calm, one you only get from experience. The blue of the man’s eyes betrayed a creeping fear. Somehow they were both at gun point, as if Michael was lethal, like a snake waiting to snap. “This can be quick.” He dropped a duffel bag on the floor between them. “Just drop it in the bag. There’s been enough blood tonight.” Michael’s stillness was undisturbed.
“But there can always be more.” He saw a definite tremble in those blue eyes now.
“Jon hurry it up. The locals are getting restless.” A voice called from outside the hut. Michael set his cup down, garnered a candle and match, and expunged the darkness from the room. The lit candle revealed a transparency to the cloth of the hut. Michael searched the confines of a trunk in the back of his hut. When at last he pulled a bright sphere from the trunk Jon felt his eyes lose themselves in the light. It drowned out the flicker of the candlelight with a blinding austerity Jon had not prepared for.  
Jon lowered his gun. The light froze him, trapping him in an instant of surprise. “Is that it then?”
“It is.” A single gunshot rang out.
The bullet whizzed past Sydney outside. The transparency of the hut revealed a splash of red against the cloth. “Jon!” Sydney cried as she saw the shadow of Jon’s body fall, but before she could relent further a single swift strike impacted the back of her head. She was out before she hit the floor.
“You were right. This could be quick.”
Jacob was awake. Rick’s bellows of anguish had made sure of that. He’d managed to catch himself looking for the trouble before many others could grasp their consciousness. The moonlight illuminated the path for him. Why am I here? Jacob thought as he ran through the tribe, I don’t need to be here. Those were gunshots he heard, so why did he run toward them and not away? The loudest of the ruckus had stopped by now and was slowly replaced by the commotion of waking murmur. The blue light of the moon competed with the orange and yellow of the tribes lights.
You can go back. Maybe even find some sleep and let them take care of it. He thought, but his run was inexorable. No, he couldn’t go back to sleep. The stammer of suspicion would keep his mind restless, he knew that.  
The last shots had rung out by now, but he knew the direction. He was sure of it. It had brought him where his heart knew he would end up, since before he started the run he knew it would be here. Jacob huddled behind the corner of a mud hut glancing cautiously at Michael’s hut. He was certain that the last gunshot had rung out from within those cloth borders. Jacob couldn’t make out much in the dark but he could see men dragging a woman away. She was garbed in a darkness that made her almost vanish in the night. The threat must have subsided with her.
Well now you know. You can turn back now. You’ll hear the rest of it in the morrow. It wasn’t enough and he knew. He’d be overtaken by his restlessness if he didn’t.   
It wasn’t bravery that possessed him. It wasn’t some duty to community, or some sense of right or wrong that compelled him. It was knowing. If he didn’t know he’d never find peace in his new home. 
Jacob entered the hut. The candle light flickered casting an eerie sheen on the metallic red glistening on Michael’s face. Enter the lion’s den. Jacob’s eyes swept past the paleness of Jon’s body, past the pool of thick redness and now fixated on the extremity of Michael’s composure. He sat royally in his chair, a cup of drink in his hand and the barrel of a gun in the other. It was as if he had expected Jacob. Why did you come here, Jacob? Was it because he wanted you here? “Hello, my child.” Maybe it was.