Timmy got to his feet after the other Rattlers were gone. Then, he just kind of stood there, staring at me. I wasn’t sure what to do. He seemed fixated on the torch in my hand, so I moved it one way, then the other. His gaze followed the flames. I returned to where I dug the small hole, slid the handle of the torch inside. Then I bent over, picked up the half-eaten jar of peaches – never keeping my eyes off my little brother.
When I lifted the jar, Timmy’s gaze abruptly went from the flame of the torch, to the jar in my hand. I dipped my fingers inside, scooped out a really large portion, then I ate it, saying, “mmmmm…,” when I did. He nearly lost his mind, jumping up and down – his rattle really got going. Then, I held the jar out to him. He froze, staring at the jar. I moved the jar side to side – his gaze followed.
They’ll eat anything. I guess it’s true. Underhanded, I pitched the jar to him. It hit the ground, rolled, and came to rest at his feet. Timmy snatched it up and immediately began to try and eat the jar. His rattle growing louder the more frustrated he became.
“No!” I said. He startled, forgot about the jar for a moment, fixed his gaze on me again. I made a motion like I was dipping my fingers inside an invisible jar. “You have to eat it like this,” I told him. Then did another make believe scoop, acted like I put it in my mouth. He watched with a fascinated expression, and when I was done, he threw the jar against a nearby rock, smashing it. Then he began scooping up the scattered peaches with his claws. I thought of all the small pieces of glass he had to be eating and shuddered.
Once Timmy got his fill of the peaches, he went to a tree close-by, leaned against it, and just sort of sat there – staring at the campfire. That stare reminded me to put more wood on, which I did – promptly. He may have been my brother yesterday, but that didn’t mean I was ready to be his meal today.
We sat just like that most of the night – him staring at the flame of the fire, me staring at him. Sometime, around the mid-night, I pulled out another jar of preserves (unfortunately apricots that time) and ate half the jar, never taking my eyes off Timmy. He never even noticed I was eating until I held the half-eaten jar out to him and said, “You want some, Timmy?” That got his attention. His gaze quickly shifted from the fire, to me, then to the jar. He let out a high-pitched rattle and began to jump up and down like an angry chimpanzee. “Okay, okay,” I said. “But just one more. “And we’ll have to share.” I threw the jar. That time, he surprised me by doing a front flip, catching the jar in mid-flight. Once he had it, he looked at it for a moment, almost lovingly. Then he looked around, found a large rock, and smashed it.
After Timmy ate his second helping of my food, he leaned back against the same tree, began staring at the fire again. I couldn’t help thinking, if he’s so interested in fire, how could he be afraid of it? And after thinking that thought, I decided sleep, at least for me, wouldn’t happen – at least not that night.
So, as it happened, I spent the entire night watching Timmy, as he watched the fire, which I ensured roared at record heights the whole time. When the dawn finally did come, Timmy was still leaning against the tree, sleeping. I collected my belongings as quietly as I could. Then I left the camp, casting one look back at my brother, feeling not just a little bit bad about leaving him. But, after all, he was a Rattler. Rattlers ate folks. So, brother or not, he wasn’t invited. Call me heartless. Never mind complacency. It’s stupidity that gets you killed.
By mid-day, I estimated I was at least half-way to Lincoln. I encountered a few Rattlers in the brush on my journey, but I had the torch, so they didn’t come near the path. As I mentioned before – for every hill I managed to climb, a new (most times, larger) one would be waiting in front of me. The largest one I encountered on my trip by far was right after mid sun that day. I crested the previous hill, then hid behind a grove of thick bushes. There was a group of men half-way down, getting their camp packed up. I didn’t want them to see me. Pa taught us that not only were the Rattlers bad, but most people were too. He said some people were okay. But I wasn’t going to gamble on whether the men on the other side of that hill were. So, I slouched behind a tree, tried my best not to be seen. And once the men finally left, I ventured into their abandoned camp, scavenging for anything they may have left behind. Of course, there was nothing. People may have been accustomed to wasting supplies once upon a time, but they sure weren’t anymore. I looked skyward; the sun was about three inches from dead center. I’d have to make camp soon. Lucky for me, I’d run across a one. And it still had a fire burning.
There was a lot of wood around the area. It didn’t take me long to forage. By the time I finished, the fire burned hotter and higher than night before. Once I got the fire going well, I sat down close to it, scraped the top off my torch with the pocketknife I recently acquired, and applied a brand-new shirt. Then I added oil, dug a small hole. I was set.
I mean, I was totally screwed, but I didn’t know that until I opened the oranges.
I ate a scoop of the oranges. Not my favorite, but they’re not bad. That’s when I saw him. The dirtiest, man I’d ever seen wander into my camp. He was swaying side to side, like pa, after his batch was done (whatever a batch is). He went over to a tree, picked something up, turned, then acted like he was more shocked than I was – waving his hand like a lunatic and yelling. Then, he ran to me, grabbed me by the front of my undershirt.
“Whatcha doin here, boy?” He said.
“Umm,” I said, looking down at my jar, then back up at his dirty face. “Eating oranges.” He stood up straight, slid a long-bladed knife into his waistband. Then he peered down at me, one eye half closed like a character in one of the pirate stories Ma sometimes told us.
“I mean – Where you goin?” He asked.
“Umm… Lincoln City,” I said. I wasn’t sure why it was any concern of his. But, considering he had a big knife, I thought it was probably best to be truthful. He laughed out loud (Like fake loud). Then said,
“Oh, no son. No, I don’t think so.” He grabbed me by the arm, pulled me to my feet. I recoiled at the scent of his breath. I don’t think he really understood that was why I was so frightened.
“Lincoln City is a myth, son,” he said. “If you wanna stay alive, you’ll stay with Gus. And do whatever Gus tells ya.”
I’m assuming his name was Gus.
He allowed me to grab my backpack, but that was all. Then he pulled me down the hill, chasing after his friends. I have to say – I was afraid of ole Gus. But the scariest thing I remember from that late afternoon was the high-pitched, ratting roar that came from the forest as Gus pulled me down the hill. I knew what that roar meant.
Timmy was awake. And Timmy wasn’t happy.