The U.S. of After Chapter 44
The sun was it’s usual dim self since the meteor hit. I guess that debris wouldn’t be falling out of the sky any time soon. At least it cooled things down a bit. The sun wasn’t directly burning our skin at least. The canopy of the boat, even though it had been burned pretty bad in the last fight, provided some kind of shade for us.
I sat next to Anya as she hummed a little song she had heard sometime in her little life. It was a pretty tune, but I didn’t know what it was. She was probably making it up. Ralph sat on my other side, his hand holding mine. I felt so happy to spite all the horribleness of the world. He would look over at me once in a while and smile, something I hadn’t seen him do much in the short time I’d known him. There was a peace in his heart now, and all of us could sense it. The fact that his eyes were so gorgeous didn’t hurt, either.
We rounded a bend in the river, and I could see a bridge or an overpass or something going over the water. Another highway, I guess. A pretty big city was on the right toward the south, but these days cities kind of blurred together as most people had either left them or found out that they were breeding grounds for Volos.
I heard a sound of what I thought was a firecracker, like one of those bottle rockets my Dad used to get illegally from other states and bring them to Oklahoma when he’d go on business trips in the summer. Jacob yelled from the front of the boat.
I heard a thump in front of me, and then something exploded between our boat and the bridge in mid air. When I looked up to see the fireball I thought I saw a man floating in the middle of it, his arms outstretched, his wispy gray hair waving in the wind, and then it was gone, and Jacob was falling into the water. I screamed as the bullets started buzzing past us like little deadly bees.
All of the men reached down and picked up their rifles, steadied their guns and started firing at a line of militia men on the bridge. My stomach turned over and I almost hurled. I grabbed Anya and threw her down into the bottom of the boat where she curled up in a ball and covered her head. There was a lot of shouting as the men and some of the women fired off rounds at the bridge. I looked to the front of the boat, and Clayton was laying on the bow , his torso almost completely over the side. Oh no, was he dead? No! He was reaching for Jacob’s body as it floated by us in the water. He missed it, screamed, and just as I was ducking down behind Ralph, I saw Jacob float by on his back, his arms outstretched, his eyes closed in peaceful slumber. I knew he wasn’t asleep.
Clayton was freaking out. He ran to the back of the boat, almost stepping on Anya and everyone else, bullets zipping through the canopy, one of them striking his shirt, grazing his ribs. He ignored it, looked out the stern and shouted after Jacob, but Jacob was gone, sinking beneath the water. I felt someone’s warm hand on my shoulder, and I somehow knew what to do.
“Clayton!” I shouted. “Pray!”
Clayton looked at me as if I had slapped him. He nodded his head and then knelt down in the bottom of the boat next to Anya, his eyes closed, and he seemed to get calm. I heard a grunt and suddenly felt someone bump into me. I turned to see Ralph slump down next to my legs, a gushing wound in his chest. He looked up at me, those beautiful brown eyes of his seeming to ask me a question, his mouth moving to try to form words, and I lost it.
I flipping lost it.
As tears welled up inside my eyes making everything blurry, I picked up Ralph’s shotgun, aimed at the first militia man I saw and unloaded. The guy fell off the bridge into the water. Then another, and another, and another. I just kept shooting, and heard someone screaming and realized it was me.
“No!” was all I could scream as the men fell off the bridge or sagged down out of sight. I would not be the victim. I would make them pay.
We floated on by, the sound of the rifles dying off, some of the people lost, some of the people wounded, but Ralph was not moving, not breathing, only laying there in my lap, his blood all over me. I dropped the gun in the water and just lay there on the floor of the boat, cradling Ralph’s head in my arms, holding him close, feeling his lifeless body get heavier and heavier.
Nothing mattered. Not a thing mattered.