He parked the car at the side of the road and walked the quarter of
a mile through the woods to the spot where the trees stopped and the
land sloped gently down to the main highway. After some kicking and
scuffing with his boots he found a comfortable spot in the brush and
sat down, his knees pulled up toward his chest, to wait. He checked
his watch, then checked it again; it should be soon, he thought. It
was. Far off he saw them rounding the bend. The waiting was harder now.
When the column reached the stretch of road nearest him, about 150 yards
from where he was sitting, he raised his hunting rifle to his shoulder
and calmly loosed a bullet into the middle of the two parallel lines
of marching soldiers. He lowered his rifle to his lap and sat there.
The soldiers stood as if suspended, then the entire column fell to earth.
There were shouts. Carefully he began to skitter backwards. Then the
woods exploded in bullets and he found himself moving at great speed
on his belly, on all fours and in a crouching run that sent him bursting
through the bushes face first. Soon he was at the car and fumbling for
his keys, an act which struck him as wildly out of keeping with what
had just taken place. He wedged his rifle partly on the floor of the
car, partly on the seat, and drove off.
Then it started. The act of driving was so ordinary, so exposed. If
he saw a roadblock up ahead he couldn't just duck into the woods. He
would have to...what? He made a conscious effort to keep his hands on
the wheel, to keep his speed down, to keep the car on the road. Then
the exertion of slithering and running through the woods kicked in and
joined the emotions that made it hard to keep his hands on the wheel
and something seemed to rise up through his body and into his skull:
I'm going to die of fright, he said to himself. Then he realized how
far-fetched that was, to literally die of fright. Then he realized it
wasn't far-fetched at all.
Each second that the car stayed on the road, though, drained that phrase
of its power and eased his fear, and eventually the car came to a halt
in front of his house. He got out and stopped. He couldn't leave the
rifle in the car, yet he was afraid to take it out. He couldn't just
leave it there in clear view of anyone who happened to peer in the car
window, yet...why not? That was the frightening part, the question;
when he'd set out earlier in the afternoon he'd had an iron clad plan,
now it had vanished like an unremembered dream. Any choice he made seemed
no better or worse than any other.
On his way to the kitchen he glimpsed his wife reading a magazine on
the couch in the livingroom. She didn't look up. He opened the refrigerator,
grabbed a bottle of beer and drank it quickly and felt a little better.
He went out the kitchen door and circled round the back of the house
to the car. Making a conscious effort not to look around, he removed
the rifle and walked to the root cellar. Fortunately the root cellar
door wasn't locked. He leaned the rifle against a sack of potatoes,
emerged from the root cellar and went into the barn to hide.
A couple of minutes later he got up from the hay bale wedged into a
corner of a vacant stall and went back into the house. He walked through
the front door and, again passing his wife who still refused to look
up, went into the kitchen. He grabbed all the beer in the refrigerator
and, arms full, tried to let himself quietly out the kitchen door. He
dropped one can which banged down the wooden steps. He froze for a moment;
then, convinced his wife hadn't heard, he made his way back to the barn.
Back on the hay bale he set the bottles in an orderly array on the floor.
It was only after he reordered them, then reordered them again, that
he opened one. He was ready to hide and wait.
Into the next beer, he realized he should be thinking about the rifle.
He should have it with him. He was defenseless. But what defense would
the rifle really be if the army or the police cornered him in the barn?
"What are you doing in here?" they might ask. "Escaping
from my wife," he could say. They might buy that. They'd laugh
at that. He opened another beer.
He lit a cigarette. Could burn the barn down, he said to himself. At
least that way they'll never find me. The sun began to fail. He zipped
his coat. That gave him an idea. He got up and walked the length of
the barn to where the old blanket was stored. Back on the hay bale,
wrapped in the blanket, a cigarette burning in his left hand, he numbered
the full bottles and cans on the floor with his right hand. He picked
one up and opened it. The last of the light slid through the barn's
partially open door. The sound of birds reached his ears and as he listened
it was punctuated by the soft rustling and shuffling and snorting of
his underpopulated barn. He opened two beers and lit another cigarette.
His breathing was regular now. The birds reached their just after sundown
crescendo. He cradled the two bottles against his stomach and exhaled.
"This is more like it," he whispered
© Gregory Farnum 2001
ALSO BY GREG FARNUM SOLDIERS/
Buy his novel THE EVENT