The Horned Monster
A giant oak desk sat at the back of the room. The walls decorated with paintings of cowboys killing Indians. The Horned Monster sat in a leather chair, reclined as his boot heels dug into the corner of the desk, dinged up from frequent abuse. He chewed on the edge an unlit cigar, petting his bolo tie.
The door swung open abruptly. A uniformed man entered halting halfway to the desk with one glare from the heavy bellied man.
The Horned Monster methodically untangled his hands from the strings to his tie, took one booted foot down after the other, and leaned his heavy body on the desk, his hands resting on the other.
“What is it?” he asked.
The man cleared his throat and cautioned a step in further. “There’s been an incident on the rez. Several people have died trying to cross the boarders.”
The Horned Monster massaged his temple with his sausage fingers. “And what’s the problem.”
The man looked taken aback for a moment. “Young kids and the elderly are among the casualties.”
“They had instructions, did they not? They were not to leave and they didn’t follow that basic instruction and so suffered the consequence.”
“If the media finds out…”
“The media won’t. There are no satellites in the area allowing for any information to leak out.”
“I think it’s time we show who’s boss. Anyone who stands in our way of this clean up or tries to leave the quarantine will be shot on the spot.”
“Is there a problem?”
The man shook his head defeated and left the room.
The Horned Monster grinned, licking his lips like he could taste the peoples blood in the corners of his mouth.
Chapter Ten: The Calm Before the Storm
The night was dark but clear. The only light came from the stars and the moon. Ari stood alone, leaning against the tail of her grandpas truck, tracing the constellations she knew with her finger.
A hooded Jeff joined her, the sleeve of his hoodie brushed up against her bare arm.
“Remember when we were little, we’d sleep outside on the trampoline looking up into the stars while you told us stories about those same stars?”
Her arm fell to her side. “It’s almost too far off to grasp.”
“The memory is right here, lingering between us,” he said, bumping into her shoulder.
“That’s not what I mean.” She swallowed. “Why can’t we go back to those days when it was all innocence and fun?”
“We may not be kids anymore, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over.”
Ari pointed to their high school friends filling the last of the bottles with distilled liquor from the bootlegger and topping them off with shreds of cloth.
“This is not fun.”
“No…but we have to believe there is an after.”
“Not for all of us. Not for Alex.”
“Maybe not for all of us, but even if some of us don’t make it, it’s all for a cause worth dying for.”
“Violence can’t be the answer.”
“It’s the only answer when they murder us and our elders just for trying to get food.”
Ari shrugged. Her eyes burning with tears and anger.
Jeff grabbed her by the shoulders. “You need to stay strong. Everyone is looking to you and Bryant to help us get through this. Don’t doubt yourself now.”
Ari looked into his eyes. The moon glittered in his eyes. He had never looked so adult before. Her stomach squirmed as she felt the heat transfer from his hands to her shoulders.
She moved aside, letting his hands fall free. Not able to make eye contact with him, she stared at her feet. “I’ll be okay. I’m not doubting what we are doing, just wishing for better times.”
“Those times will come after. This is just a dip in the spectrum of our lives.”
“Sorry to interrupt your love fest,” Bryant said noisily running his feet through the ground. “But it’s time to get going.”
Ari sent a stare so malicious his way that she wished it was a bit brighter so he could tell his comment and presence was not wanted.
“Has Kootz come back?” Ari asked.
“He just got here, said they were able to reach groups in Leupp, Page, Shiprock and near Gallup, but no word any of the other areas.”
“Are five boarder areas going to be enough?” asked Ari.
“That should be plenty. It’s not completely united but it shows that we can still communicate enough to reach at least the four corners of our nation,” said Jeff.
“And they all have enough supplies and know to hit at midnight?”
“Kootz said they all have what they need. He was so late because he was engineering where people from his tribe would go since they all will need to travel further than most of us,” said Bryant. “If it weren’t for that brain of yours, we wouldn’t have been able to organize so quickly.”
Bryant patted Jeff on the back.
“It’s important to show we are united.”
“I only hope Grandma doesn’t find out what we are up to before we can get it done.” Bryant slid his fingers through his unwashed hair.
“We have to stay positive. Grandma won’t find out until it’s done and we will all come home safely.” Ari dug her nails into her palms as she said the words, hoping the tremor of fear wasn’t noticeable in her voice.
Jeff put a hand on each of their shoulders. Bryant mimicked the gesture and Ari followed suit. They hadn’t huddled in that fashion since they were ten and scheming on how to sneak junk food from Grandpas hidden stash.
“We got this,” Bryant said.
Jeff squeezed her shoulder slightly as he broke away from both of them. She wondered if he had done the same to Bryant, but cautioned against asking. It felt weird to be hyper aware of his touch. Why was she suddenly feeling afraid of leaving him before saying all the things she had to say to him? What was it that she felt the need to say to him?
“Good luck, Ari,” Jeff said, hugging her briefly before jumping into the back a nearby truck.
Ari watched as the truck became a hot wheel in the distance.