[M] born under an ill-placed sign

POSTED: Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:48 pm

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

They ran away again.

Jethro was glad for it this time. He was desperate to escape the carnage they had witnessed – the carnage that he had participated in.

We had to do those things, Marlowe told him. The way he talked about it was distant but direct. Though he would not elaborate, what he had explained about his life led Jethro to believe these horrors were not the first he had seen.

Perhaps he ought to have been numb too. Starvation and death were not new to him. Madness was not new to him. Those terrible, wicked things done in the name of a God-given-flesh were unforgivable. A savior, his people said, and then they had died. Even that had not felt real. The fire had been real.

The goddamned fire.

Winter threatened swallowed them whole after the broke off from the others. Instead of turning east they went south, and there they bogged down in hills and river valleys when the temperature fell during the most bitter parts of winter. Few people bothered them, though they often saw suspicious dogs lingering in the distance and once or twice came across other coyotes. Several times they discussed continuing on.

When spring finally came, all it did was rain. There was flooding. Marlowe stole another horse and they fled the flat farmlands when the weather grew wrathful.

Jethro had never seen a tornado before and he had never felt the fear of God in him like he had seeing the sky turn green. He had night terrors for weeks after, but each time he woke Marlowe was there, and the cats were there, and they eased him away from the shadow of death he could not shake. They saw one more before they went north again, backtracking despite the fear of what they would find in Erie.

Luckily, they had found a road further south that cut through the mountains and followed it now. The two men were less likely to draw trouble traveling together, especially with Jethro so openly armed. Violence had kept them alive and this alone could save them.

God wasn't out there to save them.

God was trying to kill them.

Where are we going? Jethro finally asked one night while they sat in the dark and smoked.

East.

I know that. Once we get off this road, where are we going?

I don't know yet.

Not south.

No, Marlowe agreed. Not south.

He didn't like to talk about where he had been, but he had been sharing, little by little. It seemed compulsive, like Marlowe didn't mean to let little truths slip. Maya would sometimes give things away too, just by how he reacted to things. The longer they stayed together the easier it was for Jethro to read them.

They were reading him too, of course, but he didn't think about that all too much.

I still dream about the jungle sometimes, Marlowe had told him on a night not unlike this, though it had been much colder and Jethro had been sick with the memory his dream had stirred. But it gets easier.

What if we go back?

It took a long time for Marlowe to respond.

What do you think they'll say if we show up?

Jethro frowned. Why would they care where we've been?

In the dark, he didn't see Marlowe's expression change.

Besides, Jethro went on. It was safer for us to split up. If they made it, us leaving helped.

What if your family doesn't come back? What if they don't want you back?

Why wouldn't they?

Some people be like that.

You think that's what would happen?

If someone asks you to serve them, are you going to?

Of course not. That's not what it was like.

We've been gone a long time.

It hasn't been that long.

You're right. Marlowe had once said that things moved differently for him now. He had been traveling far longer than Jethro could imagine.

The horses made noises out in the field. From where they were, seated on a wooded slope overlooking the grassland, the pair and their goods (as well as two sleeping cats) were largely hidden from view. They had been doing this for a long time now – finding places where they could hide and abandon quickly. For seven months (more, if he was being honest) there had been no such thing as true rest.

They wouldn't let that happen.

They might.

We didn't live like that. Not even at the end, we weren't living like that.

We've been doin' all right.

Ain't you ever think about going back? You came back, Jethro reminded the smoking shadow he was talking to. He was becoming fixated on the idea, fueled by the way the cannabis make him reckless. Death was all around them, they were marked, so what did it matter how quickly they found it?

Still, he wanted to live.

I left something behind.

Oh yeah? You came all the way back because you forgot something?

I didn't forget it.

Whatever. What was it?

Enough.

Enough what?

It's enough, Jethro – enough to get gone for good.

Unable to stop himself, the tawny coywolf laughed. His noise stirred something in the dark and they heard it scuttle away. A raccoon, by the smell of it. Jethro rubbed his mouth and felt the sharp lines of his teeth through his too-thin face.

And go where, exactly?

Shit, anywhere. An island, he clarified a moment later, and Jethro heard him laugh too. Nah, not an island, islands have all been bad luck. A beach would be nice, though. There was a brief crackle as he inhaled on the joint. The cat likes the warm weather, Marlowe added.

Then we shouldn't go north.

I suppose not.

The silence wore between them. Yellow lights, small and quickly-fading, danced through the humid air. Seeing the fireflies made him glad for the dark, even if Jethro remained jumpy and stared after every sound that seemed too close or too large.

You can't tell anyone else, Marlowe said suddenly.

You don't want me to tell anyone about what you didn't tell me about.

Oh I told you enough. A rumor like that could get all sorts of people after us.

It seemed laughable, and yet...

Marlowe's trap had worked, but Jethro was starting to see the line.

You gonna share it with me, if we find it?

It's meant to be shared, was Marlowe's quiet answer. There was a new tone to his voice that perturbed Jethro, ever-so-slightly. He push the smoking ember into the dirt where it sizzled into blackness. I mean it, Jethro. You can't tell anyone.

I won't. This really that important?.

Yes. I told you, the voice coming from the shadow said. Don't ask me about it again.

What was enough to bring him back, after everything he had done?

Jethro found himself wondering if his siblings would have returned. That would make it worthwhile, he thought. Even if Marlowe did have some sort of hidden treasure, material goods wouldn't ever been enough to keep them safe – not when God was sending all his plagues after them, and all agencies of ethereal and wicked nature could take shape under His Will, which even now sought to undermine them.

One more attempt to outrun fate before it caught up to them, because oh, it felt like something awful was coming still.

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