The army is fast approaching. One can see the clouds of dust rising on the not-so-distant field of green, green grass, surrounded by a simple chain-linked fence. An insignificant hut stands almost deserted to one side of the field, close to the southern and eastern fences. Inside the hut, he sharpens his sword, waiting. He waits for the army.
The yellow and red bulls-eye flag flies in front of a magnificent, sliver-armored, horse-riding, sword-wielding, old-fashioned, renaissance-esque army. A humming is in the air. This hum does not come from the thudding, pounding horse hooves, nor from the cries of the disciplined, hysterical riders above them. It's a little girl's hum, the hum of the simple, childish tune like Freres Jacques, but the melody is almost indistinguishable above the roar of the organized, barbaric men and the awful clang their swords are making. The slaves being pulled with them are going deaf.
We are being jostled along in manacles. If only Eagle and I knew why we were being pulled toward this place. We shouldn't even be here. Why does an army, great as this, have their servants with them? How utterly- lame. This place seems so old and obsolete, no wonder I feel so out of place. All I have are the clothes on my back and the green-bottomed, orange-wheeled skateboard Jared gave me. Why do I still have this skateboard? I hardly ever use it, and I can't do any tricks or anything. It means nothing to me. It never has.
Not paying attention has its consequences. In the midst of my reverie, I trip over my shackles and almost fall. Eagle glares at me, because in tripping myself I just about trip him, and steadies me roughly. Eagle doesn't talk as much anymore, not since we were put into this situation. He barely even talked before that. If I didn't know him as well as I do now, and did then, I might even say he talks more. But he doesn't. I know him that well.
There's nothing to do. Talking is out of the question, because of the awful din coming from the riders mounted above us. I can't exactly sit down and read, being pulled along and having no books, and I couldn't even practice my skateboarding if I wanted too, because if I dropped it now it would be trampled. All of my senses are shot, except my eyesight, which is barely clinging. I start to look around me.
This place looks- familiar. It looks just like Crestwood Elementary: a place of the pain of the past. I can see what looks like the old YMCA building, chipping blue paint and shedding window panes. Was it not just four years ago when I saw blue structure daily, same as this, intact and well-maintained? Time cannot do that much damage, can it?
Yes, this has to be Crestwood. That break in the east fence, that led to the road, to the crossing guard whose name was Ralph and was the only adult who I could talk to without fear of being told I was doing something stupid, or I could do better even with straight A's, or I was the reason I was hated. Now that break leads only to a dirt road. How quaint. We have de-civilized, de-industrialized, and we are going back to the way we were. Is that why this great army is going to fight one lonesome man? Are we receding that much into the past?
I feel sick.
I look west, and I see what I thought I would: a string of deserted houses that used to be some street coming off of the side of this school, the sixth-grade wing. Steven Draught used to live there. I hated him so much then, and even when I felt he was alright he annoyed me greatly. What I wouldn't give just to see a glimpse of him playing basketball in his front yard now!
Of course, some things have changed. The field is much longer and wider. There is a fence between the hut, where we are headed, and the rest of this large field. How odd. Until now, I had not realized we were heading northeast. It never occurred to me, but now as I stare out at the remnants of what was my elementary school years, the remains of the garden, the leftover murals on barely-standing walls, I see just how much of an impact this makes. There is a break in the fence right by the YMCA building, or what's left of it. A thought hits me- we could get around this fence. Eagle and I, we could make a break for it, we could get out of here, while the army is preoccupied with its hunt of this lone samurai.
I rub the blisters on my wrists, looking innocent enough but in reality testing these weak chains. I make eye signals for Eagle to do the same. I'm not getting out of here without him. He is the only thing linking me back to the past before this degeneration, this relapse of humanity.
He looks around us and makes the same realizations. Isn't it just perfect? Is it or is it not an act of mistress Fate? Have we not her to thank? Or is there some bigger reason why we're here...?
No time to ponder. We're getting closer. Now is the time to put our plan into action. It's all or nothing from now on. We ready ourselves, breaking the cuffs with much ease. I guess they've already reverted into forgetting steal and using aluminum.
The humming stops. So does the army. Everything on the plain goes unnaturally quiet as all movement ceases. A black bird flying above drops suddenly to the ground next to Eagle's feet. He bends down slowly, cautiously, and picks it up. After examining it sluggishly, he looks nauseous. I reach over and feel the crow's neck. The heart has stopped, the wings have stopped, the lungs have stopped. The bird of death is dead.
How morbidly, how beautifully ironic.
The small girl's voice rings out with a juvenile, hauntingly charming, "come out, come out, wherever you are...." She giggles. If I could turn around and see the annoying little hell-spawn, I would ring her ivory neck and watch her ceramic skin turn blue. That voice has haunted me for many a day, and although the speaker is never seen, all of the slaves (and perhaps the army, too) know what the commanding lass must look like. Picturesque, a look of sheer porcelain perfection. Blonde hair and blue eyes, harmless as any china doll that follows your eyes with its own. She must look the same as I did when I was little. The image of innocence, and the inside nothing like the out.
I turn my head slightly to the left to see Eagle's. His teeth are grinding, and he will be left without them if he keeps going like that. All of us feel the same way about her, or almost, but Eagle and I are some of the few who want to see this child up close and personal- very personal, with a noose in hand and everything.
The door of the hut opens. He has waited long enough. He will meet the army head-on. He will go out a fighter.
The naïve giggle that rustles the wind behind us sends even my teeth grinding, but it is a minor annoyance. As slaves, we will be expected to rush with the rest of the army (God knows why) and that is exactly what Eagle and I need. A rush, a rush towards that break in the fence.
An innocent, menacing, "One!" bores a hole through the air like a razor-sharp electric drill. The rush begins. I hear the sound of "Two! Three!" at which I turn towards Eagle and blink, using too much energy on running to move my head up and down in a nod.
As the rest of the army advances, we change our course slightly more east, heading through the thick of the advancing army. I'm almost stunned. I expected her to detect it, but then I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Her glee is towards the individual who is to die, and therefore her anger is not towards those facing their one chance of emancipation. That's good news for me and Eagle, of course. Until the samurai is down for the count and knocked out, we won't be missed. I give it two minutes, two minutes to run. More than I had hoped for.
We reach the break easily enough, with not one of those insane men on horseback seeing us. All the other slaves are too out of it, are convinced there is no hope, but not me and Eagle. We will persevere! That is, if I can get through his thick skull just what the word "persevere" means. Until then, we're just "determined."
Around the break to the YMCA building we go. Amazing that we got away so easily, really, because I half expected one of us to get run through by a sword those reckless soldiers are slinging through the air, if not noticed by the child enchantress. I can hear the clamor on the other side of the peeling blue building, and through the chaos, I realize something.
Her voice- it's closer.
Or is it? Maybe the "Nine! Ten! Yellow!" and giggle just seems louder over here because we aren't in the middle of death tones. What a sad, demented voice that girl has! A simple lyric slips into the mind and away, "so blue, so broken, paper doll decays." I think sarcastically to myself, how quaint. I'm running for my life, and I'm quoting Slipknot.
No time to ponder now. I wish I could stop and recollect why we're here, why I brought this stupid skateboard, why I still have it. All we can do now it wait. Wait. And spin the stupid orange wheels on this useless green-bottomed skateboard. And listen to that atrocious, abrasive, childlike voice counting from one to ten, to red. I hate that voice.
I know that once she gets to the word red, the poor fighting soul opposing her will be gone. I find myself unconsciously breathing to the pulse of her counting. Exhale- "four-" inhale. Hold it a few moments. Exhale- "five-" inhale. I can't much more of this. She's even controlling my lungs! My asthma's going crazy. Six, seven, eight, nine-
And now... she's stopped? An ear-splitting screech hits the air. One horse tries to buck and sequel in fright, but it's heart stops and it dies where it stands. All the fighting stops; that is, except the lone warrior with the sharpened sword, who takes advantage of the lull to take down a few more of the mindless men on horseback, and now on the ground, and on foot.
She noticed. She knows that we're gone.
Eagle and I share a glance that we've only shared a few times before, like when Rodney came to school high, or when Charlie cut his hair, or during the break-up of Allen and Candyce: the look that says, "how're we gonna get out of this one?" We've got our backs to the door on the western side of the building, so if we run straight west, the army would see us, and the only thing separating us would be a chain-linked fence. If we go east, we'd lose time by going back around the YMCA building, and since the houses that were there such a long time, such a short time ago, since those houses are gone, the place would be a clear run-through for those men on horseback. North, to the school, would give us a few places to hide, but not so many that we wouldn't be found and destroyed by those crazy, sane horsemen and their doll guide. South, back to the army... I look at Eagle. He knows. He went to this school, too. None of the choices are exactly tasteful.
And yet small smile crosses Eagle's face. Westward, ho! he motions with his head. I nod slightly, and of course I agree because that is the only semi-directional choice we have, but we try to savor the moment. The longer we wait, the longer the lone fighter out there has a chance, the more mad chaps killed. Perhaps our mask of indecision buys him some more time.
Of course, the childlike deceiver figures out our plan, because we're so incredibly simple minded compared to her or something, and she cries out in pain, almost in pleasure, so much that two of the enormous cavalry slip away from the main mass, following our path to the exact point that they are treading in our invisible footprints. As soon as the two fall out of rank, the rest of the army seems to regain conscience again, except for the slain at the foot of the samurai. They remain there, ever to sleep, or at least until the enchantress awakens them again.
Her ringing tones haven't the same gleeful chime they had not two minutes before, and she has a set, monotonous, almost devastated wail in her voice as she weeps out the word ten. If I thought she could have emotions, I would almost feel sorry for her. Almost. Witches and spells aren't my concern. Right now, I'm just worried about my life. And Eagle's.
Around the break in the fence come the two cavalry men, and as soon as we hear the footsteps coming nearer, one on either side of the building, we begin to run.
I've never been very athletic, and now I remember why. My asthma threatens to flare up and my knees threaten to buckle. Sprinting is not my strong point. I look to my left to see the sinewy little Mexican I have come to be such good friends with loping like a gazelle on speed beside me, and a slight amazement at myself for keeping up creeps into my soul. How intriguing. I can run!
Of course, by now the samurai is down, and many of the army have turned to watch the race on the other side of the chain-linked fence. Are we some wretched form of gory entertainment? Is that the only service we perform? Because I'm tired of running, and I'm tired of blood, and I'm tired of carrying this useless skateboard with a green bottom and orange wheels. My despair mixes with the need to save Eagle, to have something remain, to not be left alone, even if it is only to die. My pace quickens. I don't know how.
The men on horses are somehow far behind us, but running seems to get us nowhere. I hear a china laugh cut the air like the glass it's made of and suddenly stop running, but this time, it's not because of an enchantment. Well, at least, the enchantment isn't placed onto me.
The grassy field in front of us turns from a plateau of home stretch for running across the finish line in safety to a pot full of boiling green and yellow aerated soup. Eagle, also startled, stops quickly and turns back towards a thoroughly stunned me, towards the crazy, horse-riding men, in a breakneck speed that could only mean the hill that has arisen from solid flatness is going to burst into a billion pieces, but it doesn't. The ground rises and sinks harmlessly, and many more began to arise, and a thought begins occur to me, and I look, for the first time gratefully, at the brightly colored skateboard an ex-boyfriend gave me that is in my hand and no longer completely useless. I turn to Eagle, ever conscious of the hooves pounding behind us.
He speaks first. "Hell, no," is all my pointed look to the wheeled contraption I'm holding gets out of him.
Dropping the skateboard, I give his brown eyes a hard glare with my bloodshot blue ones, and drop quickly into a crouch, just fast enough to throw him over my shoulder without his acknowledgement or approval, jumping onto my skateboard in barely sufficient time to miss the first javelin thrown by the psycho guys behind us. A hill begins to rise from the ground below us. As the Astroturf starts to creak from the stretching pressure, and as the orange wheels begin to turn without my bidding, we begin a dizzying up and down ascent and decent across the field, which much pleases the spectators behind the chain-link.
If I had had any lunch, I think I would lose it.
Finally, fourteen seconds and an eternity after it began, the bubbles start to stop, and I come skidding to a halt, the orange wheels almost flying out from under me. Eagle flops down unceremoniously and looks to the east, behind us, at those barbarians throwing sharpened wooden sticks. I bend down to pick up the skateboard I am now eternally thankful for just as a lance flies over my head.
Eagle picks the lance up and hands it to me. He already holds another for himself, and he nods to me, the hate blazing into heat waves before his eyes. The feeling is mutual. Such an act against us means war.
The zombies riding towards us seem to have no knowledge of our weapons that were originally theirs, or that we're both not too bad of fighters. This town is nothing new to us, and in this town, fighting takes all kinds.
I have no idea what Eagle's doing. All I know is that I have turned to face the rider who is throwing spears at me and I can easily dodge them, even if I haven't really played a physical contact sport or anything since I wrestled two years ago. But I know how to fight, even with weapons. And some jerk-off throwing sticks won't hurt me- at least, not if I can get to him first.
It takes me a second to size this guy up, to find a chink in his armor that might just be fatal, and I find one right under his arm, a soft spot that I know won't fail me. I close my eyes to feel the force of the horse's hooves pounding through the green, green grass of this field from my depraved childhood, and knowing that this verdant land will soon be streaked with crimson. I hate blood. It sickens me to no end. But in instances like this, it has to be shed.
It all happens so quickly. My eyes snap open and I can see the overwhelming surprise in the face behind the metal plating that almost causes me to falter. But not enough. Never enough.
The shaking that seeing a bleeding body lying in front of me brings almost causes me to fall to my knees. I look over to Eagle, who is easily finishing off the man in front of him. If only it were that easy for everyone, I almost begin to think, but I know that if it were so, there would be no life left on this planet, and I take my nauseated stomach with a grain of salt. Besides, time waits for no man, even though I'm a chick and not a dude, and I think I'm about to puke my guts out, so we'd better get going.
While my vomiting spell slowly leaves me, I look to my left to see Eagle playing magician, calming the horses and even getting them to sit so we can hop on. Wait, what, horseback riding?! I don't think so, and I'm about to voice my opinions when I glance up at our audience.
On the other side of the fence, the massive army begins to stir, to move, to pointedly shift forward- in our direction. Looking down at the horse that I know I am going to have to mount, I can see fear emanating from its eyes. Well, better to get on it now and ride off than to have it ride off without me. I place my right foot into the saddle's stirrup and look back at the advancing cavalry as I swing my left leg over.
The audible crack that comes from the knocking down of that wimpy chain link fence that is our only hope spurs the bodies underneath us to action. All we have to do is hold on and steer. I just hope Eagle's as good in the saddle as I am, and even that's not that great, but I can steer and move with the motion and stop and that's all that matters, right?
I can hear a porcelain shriek rip the air in a shattering "one!" I know where this is going, and if my eyes weren't already jostling around my head I'd roll them. Two, three, four, five, and where is this getting her? I thought she could only count when her army was attacking, but apparently not. The horses are beginning to slow down, and my asthma's working again, and I can't take anymore as I hear her scream the word yellow...
A voice not porcelain, not shattering, but a voice resounding none the less, cuts the already scarred air in two, a voice tattered and almost weak, a voice that I can barely recognize as my own. I'm almost surprised that I didn't scream. I yelled. Makes a big difference.
And it did: behind us, in a rustle of confusion, the crazed cavalry begin fighting with themselves, or becoming conscious, or simply falling over dead. Can a voice do that much damage? Can a voice do anything...?
No time to think on it. The horses are going faster than I would comfortably like, although at the moment comfort seems a small price for life and freedom. In front of us, the row of demolished houses where I can still see Steven Draught playing basketball in my mind is coming closer. In a moment, we're up to and going through it, and into the dense forest that I had no idea was beyond.
The driving pace of these horses is flecking them with foam.
Soon into the brush, Eagle spots a clearing, a beautiful clearing with a leisurely dripping fountain coming out of a rock with a pool settling underneath it. Eagle slows his horse and dismounts with ease. I slowly walk my horse over to the side of the pool and watch Eagle begin cleaning his mount with the waves from the pond. I smile at the greenery around me, thinking of how peaceful this place is. I start to think, we could do it, we could live out here, safe, alive, out of harm's way forever...
I throw my left leg over the horse to my right side in an attempt to dismount, but a cool chill stops me.
A whistling, china whisper rustles the air around us in a reverberating ring of ruin. At first, it is incoherent, but as it booms throughout the forest one can understand clearly, the ominous, the haunting, the ceramic childlike call of "one..."