Chapter 65

An owl hoots nearby, breaking the silence around me. I make my way slowly, keeping my eyes mostly on the ground, watching out for anything dangerous. Meeting that scorpion gave me an even greater appreciation for boots; I just wish they went all the way up to my neck.

Was that a gunshot? I stop to get a better listen. Yep, there it went again. Someone must be hunting—at night? Who hunts at night? Several more shots rip through the tranquil desert air, and now I hear an engine. Someone is driving and hunting.

Maybe they have something to drink. That would be so great. Maybe I can get a ride with them too. The shots keep getting closer and the engine is getting louder; the pitch changing from low to high and back again. Racing, and groaning, and racing, and groaning, and getting louder, getting closer.

A bullet speeds by me, and I immediately diver for the ground. What if they accidentally shoot me? I gotta find something to hide behind. I can see bouncing lights just on the other side of some trees about a hundred yards away. I don’t have much time.

There is a bush close by; that will have to do. I get up and run to it, keeping as low as possible in case more stray bullets come my way. I slide head first behind the shrub, then immediately think of scorpions and wish I hadn’t.

Someone rushes by, scaring the crap out of me. A searchlight finds him and briefly illuminates his whole body. I look at him, and he looks at me. For a brief second I see him, lit up and scared as hell. He is in pure panic mode. His eyes wild with fear and devoid of any real thought. He is taking orders from that ancient voice deep within us all that tells us—no, screams at us—to run like crazy or we will die. I still see his face for several seconds after he disappears; eyes wide with fear, searching for salvation.

I made no noticeable impression on him. I didn’t figure in any plan that resulted in his eventual survival. My brief appearance was promptly discarded as useless information and the search for anything that could help continues.

More lights flood the sky, and I duck behind the bush. The truck’s headlights briefly light up my tiny little bush, then veer off in the direction of its prey.  A second later the truck rushes by me and I get a better look at it. It has search lights mounted on a roll bar and two guys with rifles hanging onto it in the back.

It’s them: the Cowboys.

More shots echo in the night air as the headlights and spotlights and tail lights bounce like a ship on a violent sea. The engine strains and springs creak and excited voices fade away as the chase goes on.

Then everything suddenly stops.

I crawl around to the other side of the bush, and watch the shadows as a couple of people walk around and the searchlights move up high to scan the horizon. There are short trees and small boulders popping up all over this hilly part of the desert. It should be easy to hide if you really needed to.

A big beam of light makes a wide loop and bounces off me & keeps going. Good. Wait! It’s coming back. I duck further behind the bush. Shouting erupts from the truck. Did they see me?

“What are you doing?”

“I thought I saw something.”

“Over there asshole, in front of us. He’s getting away.”

The beam of light darts away and the desert is dark again.

The truck creaks and groans and whines. There’s some shouting and two more shots are fired as the chaos moves away.  More shots.  More yelling. More straining engine, and the scent of the desert sand and dirt fills the air.

The shooting stops, but the lights continue to search. These guys aren’t hunters. They’re murderers.

I don’t have a clue where I’m going, but away from here is all that matters. My God! How can people be so cruel? That’s a person they’re shooting at. His scared face is in front of me as I run.

The sounds of the truck slowly fade into the night, and more slowly still, the sounds of the desert return. First the crickets, then something scampering on the ground, an Owl hoots . . . then silence.

An engine roars over a hilltop and lights fall from the sky and search the desert floor. I am out in the open.

I break out into a full-on run, but I know I can’t keep this up for very long. I’m so thirsty and tired.

“There, there, over there on your ten, on your ten!”

Spotlights reach out for me like greedy, spastic fingers. Scanning, bouncing, searching for tracks, sniffing out fear. Anything with a beating heart will do.

“There’s some tracks, look—fresh.”

They’re coming my way, and I’m just about out of energy. I stop running. The lights get stronger, and soon they are on the path behind me.

I dive down behind some scrub brush, and a rabbit jumps up and makes a dash for it. It scares the crap out of me. I think I took its hiding place. The truck stops and a few beams of light follow the rabbit.

A gunshot.

I stay low and keep moving. Someone jumps out of the back of the truck and picks up a dead rabbit. He tosses it in the back of the truck before jumping in himself. They come again. Are they playing with me? Do they know something I don’t know? Good, they turn and speed right by me. They were going too fast and the searchlights were looking too far into the distance to find me.

“Hey, let’s go back. I think we passed him.” Maybe their secret is they are really good at this and I am going to be dead before they stop. Maybe they always get their target, and their confidence just looks like playful incompetence.

The tractor beams of hate turn back around and search for any traitorous sign of me. Slowly this time, they scrape each rock and probe every bush.

What do I do? Up ahead, a rabbit takes off running, its eyes glowing in the beams of light. “Rabbit!” someone shouts.

No! It’s running toward me.

Three shots bring it all much closer as the bouncing rabbit dodges the bullets. Another one hits the dirt in front of it, sending it in another direction. Another shot and it turns again, coming back my way. I hear the truck stop.

The rabbit is running straight for me again, eyes two bright reflections in the black night. I see a big rock that’s mostly hidden by a piece of bushy scrub brush, so I crawl over and hunker down behind it. It’s not as much of a hiding place as I thought, so I try to burrow in as deep into the sandy soil as I can, but it’s too late. Two more shots pierce the night sky, getting closer. Another shot bounces off the rock in front of me, and moves it. I push against it, hoping to keep it still. Another shot, then silence.

I hear someone jump out of the truck and the sound of footsteps getting louder. There’s probably a dead rabbit on the other side of this rock. He’s going to see me for sure. I hear the footsteps getting closer and I curl up into the smallest ball I can. The rabbit’s feeble struggle is drowned out by a final shot so loud I almost scream. “It’s dead now,” the cowboy shouts. He stopped. Why? Is he looking for something? Listening? Can he smell me? What is keeping him here?

“What’s up, Jake?”

“Just wait a minute,” he says as his footsteps get closer. I hear the cocking of his gun, putting another round in the chamber. I’m so screwed. There are a million places to hide in this desert, but that won’t help me much. The problem, the real challenge in this game of hide and seek is not finding a good hiding place. It’s not running when everything in your body tells you to go. It’s when you run that you give yourself away, and none of these many hiding places can protect you from that.

Suddenly another rabbit jumps from it’s hiding place nearby and makes a run for it, demonstrating my thoughts.

The search lights follow it and the truck begins to move. It stops right on the other side of this rock. “Forget the stupid rabbit Jake, get in! We’ve got bigger game to bag.”

He hops in and away they go, back towards the top of the hill where they were chasing that guy. They stop at the crest of the hill and a couple of them get out and search the ground, spotlights leading their way.

Time for me to get out of here. I get up and quickly walk in the opposite direction; toward the US, away from the US, it doesn’t matter just as long as it’s away from these guys.

I try to pick out some bushes or trees or even a big rock as I walk. It may come in handy should they . . . my shadow appears on the ground in front of me. A bullet whizzes by me and I know they see me. I run, looking desperately for anything to hide behind. There is nothing but small bushes and half dead trees.

A few more shots ring out and I begin to zig and zag as my shadow on the ground gets smaller and darker and the sound of the engine gets louder and louder.

I see a bush and I jump behind it, practically landing on the big rock that juts out from the ground behind it. I lay on the ground for only an instant. This is so stupid. They’ve already seen me. Hiding now will only give them a easier target. I jump back up and start running again, much to the delight of the guys in the truck.

“There he is! Yahoooooo!”

They move quickly in that truck, and every second they close in on me.

“This beats the hell out of huntin’ rabbits!”

“Hold on boys, we’ll run this one down so he can’t run away.”

That gives me an idea. As long as I keep that boulder between us, they can’t run me down. I run straight away from them, but the truck begins to turn to avoid hitting the bush, so I turn too, keeping the boulder and bush between us. The truck turns back and gets closer and goes to turn around the bush again and I make a hard right like I’m changing directions. They’ll have to turn if I’m going this way. They did.

An explosion of glass breaking, metal bending and people screaming as the truck comes in contact with the boulder that was hidden by that bush. A second later, the only sound coming from that direction is steam venting from the busted radiator. Most of the lights are still on and the truck’s front end is wrapped around the boulder and covered in scrub brush. There are two bodies sticking out where the windshield used to be, and about twenty yards in front of them, two skinny boys are lying on the ground in grotesque yoga-like positions.

My brain screams now would be a good time to run.

 

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Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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