Friday, June 24, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

The sun sat low on the horizon, capping the outcropping of rocks that the family referred to as "the cousins" - in the valley, the cattle moved slow, and Joel knew that this would be the perfect time for an attack. He was nervous. Sweat soaked through his shirt, and the hints of breeze did little to cool the heat radiating from the trail.

The horse was about done. This bothered Joel in terms of survival, but not of bond. The horse was about dead. So be it. He'd been stealing and trading horses ever since he'd left home weeks ago. This horse needed to make it to the next town. That was it.

His rifle lay across his lap, and he lifted it to his eye, sighting down the barrel and right into the ear of Black John. He could see the whole thing in his mind. Black John falling to the starboard side of his horse. The others scrambling. Trying to find safety. Hiding behind the hoofed meat their livelihoods depended on. 

Next, he would toss the dynamite. The ensuing stampede would scatter the cattle. Many would be injured. He would leave those to die the way Black John had left his girl: without water, without food, and without hope. He could finish any of the 'pokes off with the rifle if the blast and stampede didn't do the job.

This wouldn't bring Sarah back. Nothing could do that. But it would settle things a little in Joel's brain to know that the men who raped and abandoned her were laying dead in the dirt on a trail very few people knew about. They would be food for scavengers. 

He knew that it all hinged on this moment. His life, his freedom. The law wouldn't catch him, but a murderer is never free. Joel spit into the dust and shook his head. Who would take care of Emily, the little sister who had tried to keep him home when he'd left on this grisly mission?

But it didn't matter. He was locked into a code that didn't allow for these kinds of questions. He raised the rifle. Pulled the trigger. Black John fell just like Joel knew he would. He packed the dynamite back into his saddlebags. The rage was not gone, but it was tempered.

A life for a life would have to suffice.


  1. This is wonderful. So cinematic and powerful. I want more.

    1. I love it all, but especially that phrase "locked into a code," which is so succinct yet says so much.

  2. Part 1

    The harsh blue sky has softened with the descent of the sun into early evening. Yulia, done with the last Holstein, pushes a lock of hair out of her eyes and stretches her back. Despite everything, Yulia still milks the cows, twice a day. The farm women’s suggestions, at first, were made in polite attempts at her language, with soft, cooing voices and touches on her arm.

    Yulia, maybe you’d like to help in the kitchen instead. Yulia, maybe you’d prefer to help with less strenuous chores. Let Anatole carry the milk buckets, let him, let him…

    Then the messages grew more insistent and more often were delivered in Polish.

    Yulia, think of your child.

    How can she not think of her child?

    But Yulia keeps smiling and waves them away, saying she can handle it, saying she’d done these things and more in Ukraine. Of course, that is not completely true. Before taking asylum on the farm, she hadn’t as much as looked at a cow since her teen years at her grandfather’s dairy. But hauling boxes of supplies to people in the shelters, combing through debris for what could be salvaged, carrying victims of Russian shelling and children who were too tired to walk to yet another promise of evacuation—it has made her strong enough for these things.

    Why stop simply because she is pregnant?

    They think we are so fragile. Some of them should watch a birth. Then, perhaps, they will have a better appreciation of our strength. They should, like I have, watch a woman giving birth to a baby that has been forced upon her and will traumatize her all over again, seeing her rapist’s features in an infant’s face. Even if that baby is given up to the uncertainty of adoption, she will never forget.

    She sucks in a breath, sets a hand on her belly. She thinks about Maksym and presses the memory of his dark eyes and full lips into her growing fetus. She thinks of the proprietary touch of his callused but still tender hand. It’s foolish, she knows, that thinking hard enough will make this his child and no one else’s. She doesn’t want to remember the others, afraid that if she lets that possibility take over her mind, she will take the remedy so many of her Ukrainian sisters have—either to end the pregnancy or their own lives. Both of which are illegal in this country that has otherwise been so kind to her.

    This baby has to be Maksym’s. She will not survive otherwise.

    And she has to survive.


    The voice brings her back. It is Anatole.

    “Ah,” she says, giving him a wry smile. “So they have sent you to spare my delicate condition, have they?”

    He blushes. It gives her a mean kind of pleasure. He is a good young man, but so earnest. So naïve.

    “I just… I—”

    She spares him further embarrassment and simply hands him a bucket to take—their evening dance together.

    They walk back to the shed in silence. He pours both of their buckets into the big milk can that will go to market in the morning. Too soon, the buckets are empty and rinsed and the can is topped. This part, the two of them left with no purpose to be together, makes her stomach crawl. Before she can say goodnight and disappear, he holds up a hand to stop her. She glares at it, at the aggressiveness of it, halting her progress. Perhaps noting this, he slowly lets it drop and his blush creeps back in.

    “Yulia,” His voice breaks. “My offer to you…it was genuine. I meant what I said. You should not have to be alone with…”

    1. Part 2

      Enough of this. “With my dead married lover’s bastard child?”

      He appears smaller now. Her right palm goes to her belly. I didn’t mean that, she thinks. You are his and I loved him. Love. He’s still alive. He has to be still alive.

      “I have angered you,” Anatole says softly in broken Ukrainian, trying to blank the hurt from his face. “I am sorry.”

      Yulia shakes her head, raises both hands in surrender. His eyes, so earnest. So wounded. She did this to him. She feels bad for it now. As if viewing the scene from the first row of a movie theater, she watches her left hand cup his cheek. Watches her draw closer and kiss him. All the while she wants to yell at the woman “No, don’t do this!” But it is hopeless. All Yulia can do is watch as this woman leads him away into the night.

    2. You are so good at stepping out of the way of the story, if that makes sense. Nothing obtrusive. It makes for instant immersion, even in these tiny vignettes.

  3. I wished I could read him better. I’d thought we were making progress, growing together, becoming a thing. I didn’t realise how delicate it had been: that it could be broken so easily.

    We were so different; I should have known.

    I watched Hugo sitting toward the end of the boardwalk, gazing out into space.

    “You screwed up?”

    I nodded. I was glad she was here. She was his sister; she knew him better than anyone. She was used to his moods, the turbulent clouds that could shut him down without warning. It could be a word or a name he heard – almost anything. He could be listening to a song on the radio, relaxed, his foot tapping in mid-air. And then suddenly, the record would change, and he’d be gone. Somewhere else, somewhere very far away.

    “Don’t blame yourself, Jack. It’s not you.”

    I sighed. Closed my eyes. Listened to the noises of the beach. Families were spread across the whole of the sands to either side of us. Children were shouting, arguing, kicking balls into the water and doing the things everyone does at the coast. The PA system in the fun park was playing Rick Astley. Why did everyone have to keep doing that?

    “I don’t know what it was I did.” I tried to scrub at the tears threatening the lie I needed to maintain. But I couldn't be a prisoner to my emotions as well. I could already see where doing that would lead.

    “You’ve got to give him more time,” Hannah said, taking my hand. “He’s a kind man, a good brother. He deserves someone just like you. He needs someone who can be patient. Who can give him a place where he can be quiet and calm. He deserves that, I think.”

    1. Intriguing! And a great unexpected use of Rickrolling. :D

  4. Bodies,
    Free beings floating.
    Skin-coloured, ever breathing
    Spirits of endeavour, never
    Wanting to be trapped or
    Imprisoned by man, or
    Made to feel afraid.

    Wanting to know themselves
    And others, wishing to be free,
    Desiring content for others,
    Spreading love. Running from
    Hate that imprisons
    And binds.

    Odes to thought & dreams,
    Hopes that celebrate the mind.
    Imagination paints pictures
    To dwell in. Free choice &
    Movement keeps them sane.
    And so they live.

    By Vickie Johnstone


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