Out of the Badlands, part 2:7
Days passed, and Faustus didn’t appear. Though my bruises were still an awful color, I was able to help Sheila more and more around the farm. I didn’t give up hope when he didn’t come back, but neither did I go looking for him. I had no idea what direction he’d gone or how far he’d traveled in his search for wheels, milk and chooks, and there’s a fine line between realism and despair. I stayed determinedly on the side of realism—he’d either return or he wouldn’t, and if he didn’t, it was because he couldn’t through injury or death, and anyway there was nothing I could do to help—because despair wasn’t going to help me, Sheila, or Bobby survive.
A week after the two men attacked us at the house, someone else made an appearance. Boomer announced his arrival with a ferocious barking that brought my heart into my throat and send me hurrying as fast as I could—still not very fast—for a nail-studded wooden club I’d made in the workshop.
Sheila, with Bobby clutched tight in her arms, joined me. “You don’t think that’s Faustus, do you?”
“That’s not Boomer’s friendly bark.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Lock the baby in the bedroom again, get your knife, and let’s go see who it is. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let myself feel like a prisoner in my own house.”
She went back into the hallway and returned a moment later, while Bobby shrieked his indignation from the safety of his room.
We went out. Boomer was still barking his head off, and now we could hear a very anxious male voice saying loudly, “Good doggy. Good doggy. I’m not going to hurt you. Please, somebody come call the dog off? Please?!”
Boomer had a young man pinned on top of one of the posts on the sheep pen, precariously balanced and curled up as small as possible, to minimize the amount of surface area available to the dog’s teeth.
“Hey,” I said, and I let him see the weapon in my hand, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
He groaned when he saw me. “Oh, geez, lady, I’m so sorry. Would you call your dog off, please? I’m having a hard time keeping my balance up here.”
“Maybe. What happens if I do?”
“I’ll climb down. That’s all. Please. I think I’ve got splinters in my backside.”
I nodded at Sheila, and she edged forward with the knife visible in her own hand, finally managing to get Boomer by the collar and pull him back and away. He growled at her, but she shook him into submission and dragged him back to where I stood.
The man climbed down. “My name is Kurt. I followed the other two men from town.”
“Okay,” I said. “Why? And why haven’t we seen you until now?”
“They didn’t know I was there. I wanted to make sure they didn’t figure it out, either.”
“That doesn’t really answer my question, though. We dealt with them days ago.”
“I know. I’ve been—“
“What do you know?”
“I know you fought with them. I know they lost. I know they deserved what they got. I know they’d have done the same to me if they’d known I was following them, just because I wasn’t part of their plan.”
“And what was their plan?”
“Eventually? To take you back to the town alive. You two, I mean. Not your man.”
“Of course not,” I said wryly. “They had no use for him, I suppose.”
He looked embarrassed and said nothing.
I turned to Sheila. “Do you know this guy?”
She studied him, as if she hadn’t been standing there staring at him for several minutes. She shook her head slowly. “No. But you never do know everybody. People come and go, especially the men. I didn’t go out much, anyway.”
Kurt said, “If the town boss doesn’t like you, the best you can hope for is to hang on around the fringes of the town and keep your head down. He has a little private army of sorts that deals with anyone he considers to be a problem, and by ‘anyone’ I mean men. I’ve never heard of them doing anything permanent to a woman.”
“So, you’re here. You didn’t answer my question before: why? Why did you follow those men out here?”
“I heard about you guys coming to town. That was the most exciting thing to happen in town for ages. Some people got to eat fresh meat, the cart was admired a lot before it vanished into the town boss’s garage, and a few even admired that you’d been living on your own and doing things we never thought of. Sheep to pull a cart!” He laughed, and then sobered abruptly. “When I heard some guys were coming out here to gather you in, I decided to come too because—because I hoped I could live here. I don’t want to live in town.”
Sheila muttered, “I don’t blame you.”
“Well, you can’t stay here.”
“I won’t make trouble for you. I swear. I’ll sleep in a shed or something. I’ll do any work you tell me to do.” He paused. “Where’s your man?”
“He’s around,” I said.
“He’s not. I’ve been watching for a couple of days. I haven’t seen him. I hadn’t seen you, either—” he meant me, “But I see why, now. They beat you up something fierce. I don’t know how you dragged them out of here, with you in that kind of shape. I’m really sorry. I couldn’t watch all the time, because they might’ve seen me. I’ve just peeked in off and on, and I saw where you’d taken them.” He grimaced. “Finally, today I came down, and your dog treed me on the fence.”
I glanced at Sheila and found her watching me. I said, “Go get Bobby, would you? He’s been in the bedroom by himself long enough.”
She frowned. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I think so. Leave the dog with me, though.”
She did, and then she crossed to the porch and climbed up. I stood there watching Kurt, while I twisted my hand in the collar on Boomer’s throat. I could feel the low rumble of his growl vibrating through the leather.
“Bobby. That’s the thing you brought to town? I heard you’d brought one. Good thing you left with him. They’d have killed him. They don’t allow—”
“Bobby is a little boy. He’s a person like you or me,” I said sharply. “Don’t ever let me hear you say otherwise.”
“Is he yours, then? Yours and your man’s?”
“No. He’s adopted. I don’t see what difference that makes.”
He shrugged. “Some women seem to have one like that with one man, and not with another.”
“You must have managed to stay in town quite a while.”
“I’m extrapolating. Some of the women in town have had two or three now. If they have a bad one, you can tell at birth, so—that’s taken care of, and she has a chance to have another one as soon as possible, only with a different man to see if it’s a genetic recessive thing.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I had nothing more to say, though I never quite looked away from him while we waited for Sheila to come back. Only when I saw her descending from the porch to the dooryard did I say, “My man is on a shopping trip. We’re expecting him any day.”
“That’s a funny way to say it. Shopping trip.”
I didn’t laugh. I turned to Sheila. “Was he okay?”
“The usual. I had to take the door off the hinges again,” she said.
“Poor little guy.” Impulsively, I said, “Kurt, I’m going to give you a…trial run. This is Bobby. He’s more important to me than you are. Treat him like the precious future he is. You’ll sleep out in the hay storage area. If you attempt to come to the house at night for anything less than to tell us the house is on fire, I swear we’ll hack you to pieces and feed you to the dog. If you get any urges….don’t. Just don’t. Because hack to pieces, dog. You got it?”
He spread his hands wide. “I promise. My alternative is to go back to the town, yeah? Or walk into the bush. I’d rather be here doing grunt work.”
“All right, then. We need to bring in the hay today and cut more. How are you with a rake?”
He shrugged. “I imagine it’s like anything else. If you don’t know how, you learn. Point me to it.”
I pointed, and he went to work. I still felt wary, and I wondered how exactly I was going to come up with enough food for four adults and a baby, assuming Faustus ever came back. For the moment, though, it was good to have another set of arms doing some of the heavy labor.