CHAPTER 27 – Make My Day
“You stay out of trouble, now, Charlie.”
Before he turned back to face his wife, Charlie picked up an axe handle from where he had set it next to the door. Nate had rightly pointed out that, from Billy Ray’s description of his encounters along with their own observations, it would be unwise for anyone to go out and about without some kind of weapon. In Charlie’s world, an axe with a chopping head was merely a tool, but without the edged steel capable of cutting through a tree trunk, the handle made a great weapon. “Vonnie, sweetheart, that hurts. You ever see me go looking for trouble?”
“No, my love,” she said as she stepped forward and softly caressed his freshly shaved cheek. He still shaved every morning since the invaders left, with hot water if he had it but with cold if he didn’t. He claimed it was just something a man needs to do. “But, somehow, trouble manages to find you. Be careful, okay?”
Their kiss was tender and drawn out. When it appeared, from a growing grin, that he was thinking of lingering to see what might develop, Vonnie, spun him about with a laugh and a hand to each shoulder, slapped him on his butt, and said, “Go shopping, dear.”
The five from the museum had come up to the Victorian three days ago. Billy Ray and Ronald the next day were the last additions to the group that enjoyed The Judge’s hospitality. Nothing like the multitude that had crowded into the place before the invaders found them, though. Still, their food stores were getting low.
Charlie had volunteered to check out some of the boxcars in a derailed train out at the edge of town. Nate offered to go with him, but Charlie turned down his offer. He knew the old guy wanted to check out something in the other direction. Nate’s old friend, Tom, lived just a few blocks away, and he was hoping the weapons collection was still there. Besides, chances of actually finding enough for two people to carry were getting slimmer all the time.
Billy Ray had volunteered to go with him, but every time the big guy stood up to do something, Vonnie gave him hell. Charlie could still feel the chills he got when he watched Emmie close his wound like he had heard she had did with Jason’s leg after they took the glass out of it – something he didn’t think he had really believed until he saw it happen with Billy Ray. He could still see the look of speechless awe on Billy Ray’s face when his wound stopped bleeding and closed as they all watched. Emmie was able to give the healing a good enough start so Vonnie didn’t even have to stitch it. She said they shouldn’t take any chances, though, and told Billy Ray to stay off of his leg long enough to let it get a good start in healing or he could lose it, or worse. Charlie was pretty sure it wasn’t all that serious, even before Emmie’s magic, but neither he nor Billy Ray was about to argue with the only person available with medical training. Although they had recovered some medicines from a couple of drug stores and a few houses, they had to dispense them judiciously, as The Judge would say. In the absence of antibiotics, any wound could become infected, and any infection could kill if it couldn’t be stopped. Some chances just weren’t worth taking.
Some minutes later, when Charlie stepped around the corner onto Main Street just three blocks from the Victorian, he was close enough to hear the whoosh a four-foot length of pipe made as a boy swung it at the men trying to close in on him. One swore and the other two laughed as they jumped back out of range then crouched to move in again with knives poised.
Standing amid debris and with his back to a large pile of charred rubble, the boy swung his makeshift weapon in the other direction, again checking the attack. His freckled face, red hair and long-limbed awkwardness made him look even younger than the sixteen or so years Charlie credited him with. A little redheaded girl crouched on the ground behind him, clutching one of his legs while crying hysterically and peering wide blue eyes around him at their attackers. Charlie didn’t think she could be more than six or seven.
Another man stood back several feet from the conflict, but he was clearly involved, giving orders and motioning with his hands how the attackers should proceed. The way he held a long pole beside him reminded Charlie of a beardless Moses leaning his staff and peering across the Red Sea. He even wore an ash-smeared sheet draped around his shoulders in such a way that it billowed out with the slightest breeze. He was tall, lean and muscular, but it wasn’t likely he’d be mistaken for Charlton Heston. Charlie had known him around town for years and had never liked the loud mouthed, bigoted blowhard.
“Morgan!” Charlie shouted as he moved closer. “What the hell are you trying to do to that boy?”
One of the men stalking the teenager quickly dropped his hand holding a knife to his side and stood upright. The other two looked at Charlie, but they showed no sign of backing off from their assault. Ned Morgan turned slowly to face Charlie who strode into the battle zone.
Charlie continued with, “Somehow I don’t think you and your pack of jackels are trying to protect the young lady from a boy that looks an awful lot like maybe he’s her brother. And, does it take three men to take one boy?”
Morgan seemed to draw himself up even taller. He gazed down his nose at Charlie as his voice rumbled, “You are interfering with something that does not concern you. Leave.”
“Well, now, when I see a little girl that is so scared she’s shaking, and when it appears that you and these other sorry examples of manhood are what’s scaring her, I just can’t stop myself from gettin’ concerned. Think I’ll stick around a bit.”
One of the men, this one with a knife in each hand, said, “You stick around here, ass-hole, and you’ll get stuck.”
Charlie looked at the young man that threatened him then said with a snort, “Yeah, I know: You’re bad. Mickey somethin’-or-other, ain’t it?”
Mickey grinned, but only briefly, pleased that he was known, but not pleased at all that Charlie had laughed at him. “Yeah. Mickey something. Now, do like the man said and leave.”
Charlie started to answer with another retort, but he decided to leave the young man who liked to be recognized just hanging. Instead, he looked one of the others in the eye and said, “Matt Johnson, what the hell are you doing hanging around with this dog puke? I thought you had better sense. How’d your mom come through everything?”
Before Matt could answer, Morgan spoke. “Enough! We are doing the Lord’s work. Stand aside that we may get to it.”
Charlie looked back up at Morgan and scratched his head. “What lord would that be, Morgan? I don’t think I know of any lords that send grown men to harass little girls and teenage boys.”
“Be wary, thou treadeth close to blasphemy. This girl has revealed herself to be the Devil’s disciple – a witch. It was witnessed that she performs satanic rituals, using ungodly talents in her methods.”
“That’s not true!” the boy shouted. “She’s able to make things float in the air, that’s all. She just found out she can do it, and she plays with it. The Devil’s got nothing to do with it.”
“Witchcraft, I say!” Morgan’s voice became thunderous.
“Want me to take care of this ass-hole, Reverend?” Mickey must have been feeling left out.
“Reverend? Is it Reverend, now, Morgan? Don’t you swab out sewers, anymore?”
Morgan was clearly seething inside, but he came on soft instead of casting bolts of lightening.
“Brother Dickerson, I have answered a higher calling. The Lord, God, has declared that I am deserving of –”
“Whoa, there! Don’t call me brother. Folks might get the idea that I think like you do. And I haven’t heard the good Lord declaring anything.” Charlie recalled what The Judge had said about Morgan believing that he has been given heavenly power. “Could be, you know, that you sorta misunderstood the message. Why, it could be there wasn’t a message at all; it just sounded like there was. You know, every ding-dong isn’t a door bell.”
“Enough! Thou hast declared thy allegiance,” Morgan roared. “Now, stand aside or face my holy wrath!”
Charlie’s feet never even stirred as Morgan strode closer, towering over him.
Morgan’s eyes grew wide. “By the power that has called me forth to cast out evil from the world, I command thee to move aside or suffer the fate of those that thou wouldst foolishly defend.”
When Charlie failed to jump aside, Morgan railed, “Then feel my wrath as I smite thee in the name –”
Then the Reverend Morgan erred; he raised the pole up to a position that seemed to Charlie like he was, indeed, about to smite him.
Charlie’s fist slammed squarely onto the point of Morgan’s chin with enough force to snap the big man’s head back, but not quite enough to lift him off the ground. The Reverend did, however, land flat on his back, where he remained, unmoving and unconscious.
Charlie spun around and fell back to stand just ahead of the boy and his sister. As he did, he raised his axe handle up and rested it on his shoulder. With a quick glance, a wink and a grin to let the boy know he had an ally, Charlie reached over with his other hand to take a two-handed grip on the heavy length of hickory. Still grinning and with a sparkle of anticipation in his eyes, he said, “The odds just changed, fellas. Still wanna play mean and nasty? Like a great man once said: you feelin’ lucky, punks? Come on, make my day.”
Mickey pointed one of his knives at Charlie, and, as he shook it like a scolding finger, he said, “You made a big mistake, ass-hole.” He turned and strode off down the street. The other two followed with glances over their shoulders.
Charlie noticed Morgan was beginning to stir, although just barely. He said to the boy, “Come on, let’s go before he wakes up. Where’s your family?”
The boy, now carrying his sister who wouldn’t release her hold around his neck, responded, “They’re dead.”
“Oh … Sorry. So, have you two been alone for the last month?” Charlie asked as he urged the youngster on at a quick pace. He wasn’t sure Mickey couldn’t gather enough reinforcements just around the next corner to sufficiently restore his courage.
“No. We’ve been at our church since everything burned down. Not Reverend Morgan’s church, another one. They let us have a place inside to sleep … food and water, too, once in awhile. A lot of people were staying there. I think everyone had lost someone. The two churches didn’t join together until about a week ago. We were still with just our own church when they appeared—you know, the demons.”
“Listen … uh, what’s your name?”
“Jared. This is Lila.”
“Hi, I’m Charlie. Listen, Jared, unless you want to go back to that crap about Lila being a witch, forget about that demon stuff. They weren’t demons no more’n you or me. They were nothing but aliens from outer space. Weird, huh? Didn’t think I’d ever say that without a grin.”
“But Reverend Morgan said –”
“Plumber Morgan said your sister is a witch. You believe him?”
“No, of course not.”
“Good. So, you got any place to go? Friends or relatives that are still …?”
“No. And I can take care of Lila, myself. I don’t need nobody. Not when people that I thought were good start calling her … what some of them called her. If I hadn’t grabbed her and run out, I don’t know what they would’ve done. She was just sitting in the corner playing with some sticks and stuff. It’s something she just learned how to do, I guess; she never could before. Someone saw her and started hollering about witches, and someone else ran and told Reverend Morgan. I didn’t think people even believed in witches, anymore.”
“Well, when someone like Morgan pounds it into them every day, especially after going through what folks have, they might start believing just about anything. How about coming home with me?”
“But, I ….”
“It’s just me and my wife and The Judge and a few other good folks that don’t believe in demons, either, in a great big house. It belongs to The Judge, but I don’t think he’d mind. In fact, I can just about guarantee that you two’ll be welcome. He’s a good man. I’ve known him for years. And, Vonnie – that’s my wife – well, she’s a jewel. Come on, now. You can’t just live out here on your own, not with Lila.”