Out of the Badlands: Part 2:6
If the next day wasn’t the second-worst day of my life—the actual worst being a couple of days after the T.D., when I had to run like hell to escape a mindless mob that would have, if it had managed to catch me, probably have killed me slowly and then eaten whatever wasn’t too bruised—then I don’t know what would qualify. I was so sore I could barely move. Every muscle in my body screamed whenever I tried to change positions, and if I hadn’t had to get out of bed to the bathroom, I might have lain there all day. Frankly, I might have welcomed being killed, and as for being eaten, once I was dead I don’t suppose I would care one way or another. Worse than that, of course, were the images that kept popping unbidden into my mind as my brain replayed events. I began saying “No!” aloud every time it happened. Grayback and Pigpen were dead, and if there were any justice left in the world, they were currently passing through the digestive systems of a pack of local dingoes, to be deposited somewhere else, smelling like what they’d been all along. And if there were no justice in the world, they were at least still bloating in the sun, digested from the inside out by their own stomach acid. Good riddance. I wished I could make my brain see it that way. Stupid brain. It was working against its own best interests.
Me being down for the count left Sheila as the do-everything person. She didn’t want to go outside, and I didn’t blame her, but I told her to keep Boomer right at her side. As long as he didn’t bark, everything would be fine—and if he did signal seeing something out of the ordinary, she would know to get herself back to the house on the double. She probably didn’t do a very good job of feeding and watering the sheep in the pen—now reduced to just the two new draft-wethers, since the second ewe hadn’t worked out for milk and had been turned out to fend for herself—but as long as they had hay and water, I couldn’t complain. I couldn’t get out and look at her handiwork, anyway.
I watched Bobby as best I could. I’m afraid he didn’t find me very interesting, and I couldn’t chase him at all, but I could at least keep an eye on him. And all that while, in the back of my mind, the fear lingered that Faustus might not come back. I’d been there before, of course, the day we ran from the town. Now that the town had found us, the fear had come back.
I could live without him, if I had to. I’d done it before. That time seemed very long ago, now. If it wasn’t a different life, it was something like that. Like how the butterfly remembers life as a caterpillar, figuratively speaking. I’d lived in a town with people I knew and loved, and then I’d cocooned myself away in the badlands for a while, and at last I’d broken out and begun traveling with Faustus. I wondered if this was what people had lived like back before there were cell phones, or phones at all, and when a letter dropped in the post might take months to arrive. We didn’t even have post. I didn’t know how people lived with the not knowing. It made me want to attach myself at the hip to him, as the cliché goes, whenever he came back.
The one thing I didn’t feel, and you might think I ought to, was guilty. I hadn’t felt guilty when we’d killed the two men on the way into town, and I didn’t feel that way after these most recent two, either. How could I? If there’s one thing that Terrible Day brought into brutally sharp focus, it was this: You do what you have to do to survive. If you’re not willing to do that, you might as well just go looking for a Western Brown snake, some other poisonous snake or spider, or if you were really adventurous, wade around in the ocean and hope to get stung by a jellyfish. They’re all agonizing ways to die, but mostly they’re quick. I didn’t view those two men as any different from snakes except for being worse. Snakes can’t choose to be evil.
Sheila made dinner. I ate the best I could, gratefully. My jaw hurt from being hit, though at least I had all my teeth, and I was pretty sure none of them were broken. Fortunately, lentils cook down into a slurry that doesn’t really need to be chewed. Bobby helped us eat it, and Boomer got the leftovers. After that there was nothing to do but sleep, wait, and hope Faustus’s shopping trip would prove successful in as many ways as possible.