The U.S. of After Chapter 23-24
His-a-kit-a-mi-si caught the bullets while the old man smiled his smile of peace.
We all rode the horses without talking for some time. I don’t know when someone started speaking, but it must have been after traveling for nearly a day. We all rode in a line, me first, then old man Jacob, then Amy and Clayton, and that Ralph kid rode at least three horse lengths behind all of us. His face was really pale for a while until finally the color came back to it.
“You guys know where we are goin’?” asked Clayton. He was kind of like one of those kids that never really “got it” but somehow seemed to figure things out slowly, working them out in his mind.
“We just follow this highway to the river,” said the old guy. I don’t think any of us had asked his name. I decided to get some info.
“What is your name, sir,” I said to him formally.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “How rude of me. The name is Jacob Buckminster. And yours?”
“Ethan… er… Sergeant Ethan Farmer,” I managed.
“You in the army, Ethan?” he asked.
“Was, sir. I suppose I was.”
He chuckled to himself, prodding his horse with his booted heels and riding up beside me. He looked at me, winked, and suddenly I felt as if he saw right through my ruse. I changed the subject.
“I was too busy ducking and covering to see what happened back there,” I said. “…So what happened back there?”
He smiled that infectious smile of his and his eyelids squinted together to make his eyes almost disappear.
“I suppose they saw we were of superior number,” he replied, his voice calm and soft. “Sometimes God does things that defy explanation as well, isn’t that right, Raphael?”
Jacob looked off to my left when he said the name, but I certainly didn’t see anyone. It was then that I thought that he might have spent too much time out on his own or fallen and hit his head or something. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I pulled back on the reins a bit and let Amy and Clayton catch up. Jacob rode on ahead and seemed to know where he was going. I felt like riding with someone who actually made sense when they talked, so I hit up the youngsters.
“You guys know what happened?” I asked. “I was covered up like a good soldier.”
Amy shrugged, but Clayton couldn’t keep quiet. He spoke in low tones as if telling me a dark secret.
“I can’t explain it, but those guys opened up on the old guy. I could hear somethin’ clangin’ around but didn’t dare look that way. All I know is them guys took off runnin’ and he didn’t have a scratch on him. I can’t figure it, unless he’s in with those rough guys with all the firepower and this is all a trap, but I really don’t think it’s a trap. Man, I don’t have a clue.”
Yes. Talk to someone who makes sense. Not happening on this trip.
Just then we could hear Jacob singing, a rich baritone, some hymn or other I had heard somewhere before but couldn’t place. There used to be this old, run down church next to my apartment building in McAlester and I’d sometimes hear singing coming from there on Sunday mornings, just when the hangover was wearing off. Those people couldn’t sing well, but Jacob’s voice was somehow beautiful in an old world kind of way.
“I dare not be defeated
With Calvary in view,
Where Jesus conquered Satan,
Where all His foes He slew;
Come, Lord, and give the vision
To nerve me for the fight,
Make me an overcomer
Clothed with Thy Spirit’s might.
A victor, a victor!
Because of Calvary.
Make me an overcomer,
A conqueror, a conqueror…” and then he hummed the rest.
We rode on, and soon we came close to the river which lazily flowed under the highway bridge through the hills. We saw several multi-colored tents down at the water’s edge, so we all stopped our horses to let them graze along the grassy shoulder of the highway. It was a quiet looking place, a ring of trees springing up along the beach cushioned from the sandy shore by a field of tall grasses and cat tails, and then woods beyond. I was thinking that we needed to proceed with caution. There was no telling what kind of people camped down there, hostile or friendly.
We dismounted our horses, all but Ralph who was still staring at the water flowing by down below, his brown eyes unblinking, his mouth slightly open. Amy walked over to him and waved her hand at him.
“Ralph?” she said, almost a whisper. I had to listen close to hear what she said next. “I think we are going to give the horses a rest and see if we can get to the river. What do you say?”
It took a second for his gaze to break. She touched the Indian kid’s leg and he sort of jumped, then without much ceremony climbed out of the saddle as Amy led his grey horse over to the side of the road to graze. In one hand she held the reins and in the other Ralph’s trembling hand. I thought they made a cute couple for whatever it was worth. Clayton, probably feeling like a third wheel, followed close behind and then Jacob joined us, pulling his white horse by the bridle. The old man let go and patted the horse’s neck. It bowed its head and ate.
There was a steep incline just past the bridge and a small, well traveled trail that snaked its way through grass, on around a few granite boulders and emptied out on sandy gravel by the water’s edge. Jacob shouldered his satchel, grabbed his walking stick and looked at all of us with a huge grin.
“Who wants to go down and visit with the locals?” he asked, taking a deep breath, filling his lungs with air.
“Jacob,” I said sternly, as if speaking to someone with Alzheimer’s. “I’m not really sure that’s such a good idea. They might be hostile.”
He laughed. It was a wheezy, barrel chested kind of laugh.
“Now,” he beamed. “We can’t go assuming everyone is a bad apple, now can we? How else will we get along in this world. We’ll just ask and receive.”
With that, he started down the path as methodically and quickly as his denim clad legs would carry him, walking stick stabbing the ground for support now and then. We all watched without a word. The only person to speak was Clayton.
“Maybe we should hide.”