Tuesday, August 5, 2008
PROMISED LAND - Prelude
What follows is my latest book, a novel, in serial form. Keep watching this site for the continuing story... PRELUDE There were men in the woods. Men with guns. And they were looking for me. I clung to a scratchy tree, pulling myself close to it in the dark. Deep, sweaty, humid dark. I did my best to slow my breathing to an inaudible rhythm, and pulled harder on the tree, hoping it made no sound, wondering how long I could stand the itchy growth on its trunk rubbing against my sweaty arms. They circled slowly past me, moving in what appeared to be ever widening circles, guns with lights on the end, pointed at the ground. They grew closer with every pass. Even more disconcerting was the murmur of their conversation. They were joking, for god’s sake, making funny small talk about hunting me, as though I were a mindless beast, an annoying varmint, something that crossed their collective path and should be stepped on. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of their faces, as paths criss-crossed, lights bounced and the dark grew deeper and hotter. Two of them appeared to be twins, identical faces on strangely different bodies, one with a head a bit too small atop his hulking frame, the other’s head almost too large for his smaller body, legs inappropriately short for his girth. I had to stop myself from laughing with mad panic at the sight of them, wobbling along with misshapen bodies and matching heads, like some strange god had deliberately split the zygote off center, to punish puny mortals while amusing other cruel gods. Perhaps this had brought them to cruelty themselves, entering the world as a poorly divided egg. As I took stock of my surroundings, I saw that I was at the edge of a small upward incline. It swept slowly up from the edge of the tree line that hid me, to the raised roadbed, often found here in gulf coast Louisiana, designed to protect the roads from erosion when the rains, floods or hurricanes came to take their toll. For me, it meant an up hill sprint to the road, slowing me down, just as I broke out into the moon & starlight that settled on the blacktop. It meant I would have to scramble up hill, only to be a sitting duck, an illuminated target. It meant that I was probably going to be a dead man if didn’t move before the next widening circle came around. And probably a dead man, too, if I ran. My only hope appeared to me as if in a dream. First there was that familiar buzzing sound, my harbinger of sorts, following me again, as it had for so many days, now. Then a dim glow on the horizon, almost hallucinatory, like a ghost image, slowly clarifying into distinct light. It was an approaching car, out here in the middle of nowhere. Its lights danced in the wavering heat and mist of humid delta night, almost like a signal, calling me to another reality, awake from this horrible dream, safe and secure as the memory of fear dissipated. No such luck. It was, however, a chance of escape. If I could just time it right, a sprint up the sloping hill to the road, in time to stop the car and get in, before the shooting started, a convincing plea to the driver to take off, before we were both shot down… it was a long shot at best. I flinched inside, knowing that these men would kill the approaching driver as easily and without care as they would me, and that if I let that car pass safely, the person behind the wheel would pass safely, too, through the night, never knowing what transpired in those sweaty woods. Still, I readied myself for a launch, dug in to the thick damp soil for footing, and watched the approaching car. The passing circle of men with guns was at its farthest point from me as I timed my run to meet the oncoming car. The moment had come… As I pushed off the tree with my arms and sprung forward, my left shoe stuck in the mud for an insane moment, turning everything to slow motion, letting me believe for a crazy instant that the earth itself were holding me back, that those cruel gods were, indeed, punishing our paltry lives, the roots of the trees their horrible soldiers, clutching at my very limbs. Then it got worse. They damning earth released my foot, shoeless of course, with an audible pop, so loud, it echoed of the trees on the opposite side of the road. As I lunged, limping on my tender foot, unbalanced against my shod one, up the hill to the road, I threw myself the last few yards to the blacktop. The whine of screeching tires, sliding out of control, approached me, as the first shot rang out.